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COVID-19: what I’ve learned and what I’m doing / not doing

What a difference a week can make.  In the last week, COVID-19 has gone from somewhere in my top 10 list to a solid number 1, both in terms of wat I spend time thinking about and in terms of what I spend time doing (and not doing).  Here’s a rundown of what it’s taught me, about myself and people in general as well as what I am doing…and not doing (or at least attempting not to do).

What I’ve learned about myself specificall

  1. As much progress as I feel I’ve made through mindfulness practice (journaling, meditation, etc) I still get caught up in my thoughts far to easily when under stress.  I did “catch myself” clicking into that next news article, staying up later than I should have reading / watching, and waking up earlier than I needed to with my mind immediately “spinning”.  Everything is a teacher and the next few weeks is a great time for me to test and improve my practice, holding myself with compassion when I fail (which will undoubtedly happen).
  2. I noticed some feeling and reactions I’m not so proud of.  For example, I was elated when the market dropped 10% on Thursday.  I felt excited and self satisfied for being on the side lines.  Another example: my kids college’s both went to at least tempory remote instruction within a few hours of each other this past week.  While I am glad to have them home, I was also immediateley worried about them bringing the virus along with them.  Perhaps I have more shadenfreude and disgust reflex than I would like to admit.
  3. My first reaction is still to do something.  At first it was read all I could.  Then it was stock up on a few things (thankfully for me this was Monday).  Then it was tell everyone I cared about how bad it might be and that they should limit travel and prepare.  Then it was to help keep things moving at work and with my church.  I still haven’t been able to make myself sit with this and just let it be.
  4. I’m actually a little more “socialist” than I thought I might be.  COVID-19 hasn’t caused me to sudenly support massive government interventions since I still believe that the only real power that we give to a government stems from a monoploy on violence.  However, I do actually care about the health and wellbeing of others, even those I don’t know far more than I might let on sometimes.  I’m doing / not doing most of the things listed below not because I think I am in any real danger, but because I think it’s the best thing I can do to slow the spread.  As I read somewhere in the last few days (it all runs together so sorry for lack or attribution): going out in crowds because you’re not worried you will get sick is like driving on the sidewalks since you know you won’t get hurt.  Sometimes its not about you.
  5. I still don’t like “not knowing”.  I really liked the question “what would it feel like to not have to know” since I first read it in Reboot a few months ago.  However I recognize I am still not good at being comfortable in a place of not nowing.  I want testing availalable for everyone now so I can know the real numbers.  I want a complete decontamination procedure so I can know I am safe in my own home.  I want leadership that seems in touch with reality and has a clear idea what we should do so that I can know what the next few months will be like.  These things are just not for me to know right now.

What I’ve learned about people (including me)

  1. We are really bad at math, science, logic and pretty much everything else that the Enlightment gave us. I’ve seen so many posts about how few people this has killed compared to the flu which proves we are bad at understanding exponentials. I’ve seen an equal number of posts claiming that drinking hot water (or worse bleach) are a cure which proves we are bad at science. Reason and logic are not everything, but they are a tool that can help understand and even solve some things. Viral pandemics happen to be one of those things.
  2. We have made a mess of our sense making apparatus. It’s a strange twist of fate that a technology that was supposed to bring us together has seperated us so deeply. We seem to have lost any way to come to a common idea of what is real. We used to have institutions, norms and trust in expertise that could help tease out, hopefully in public, what was real, at least a local / operational sense. All that seems to have evaoprated and as a result we can’t seem to make any effective collective decisions. Democracy is a reasonable (least bad?) way to make decisions, but it requires something that is outside of it to come to consensus reality. One reason that China seems to be “beating us” in their response to this threat is that our political mechanisms are no longer based on any common sense making aparatus.
  3. We will do anything to feel in control. Why else would TP be sold out everywhere?
  4. We are less “socialist” than I thought. Despite the seeming popularity of socialist ideas and leaders, when push comes to shove it seems we are all much more about the one than the many. I expected this from the Me generation (Boomers), but must say I am suprised seeing this in Millenials. I know its a lot to process, but I would have thought they would be rather ready stop going out for a few weeks to save us all. Us in Gen Z are just going to sit in the back with our anxiety and let those two generations kill each other I guess.
  5. We really are bad at recognizing new situations. I can’t help but connect this to System 1 / System 2 errors from Thining Fast and Slow. The basic idea is that System 1 operates most of the time. It is the “real time” system and given out limited capacity to take in everything, it operates on assumptions, stereotypes and hueristics. It’s fine when things are “normal”, but it can lead us astray when they are not. Another part of the work talks about these heuristics, or biases and how they can lead us astray. One bias that seems obvious in the last week is normalcy bias, which keeps us from noticing when things are not normal…and causes us to over react when we notice that they aren’t. Another is recall bias, which substitutes the likihood of something happening by the eas at which we can recall something happening. It’s been interesting to see this one in action on those that are on opposing sides of the reaction spectrum. Those that are in the “it’s just the flu” camp can’t ever recall a global pandemic killing 2% of the population, so they default to the closest thing they can recall. Those that are buying all the TP are deep into some sub-reddits that allow them to easily recall the death rates from the 1918 spanish flu for 10 major metropolitan areas as well as which one had the worst time of it in the second and third wave…so they buy all the TP. Even when we do recognize something new, we seem to react in the old way. Preparing for this like we would a bad snow storm.

What I’m doing

  1. Staying put mostly.  This is the big one.  Since Sunday I have left the house twice.  It’s the intersection of wanting to have control and trying to do what I can for others.  I had a slight concern that I might have had it – I attended a conference a few weeks before it was a thing that several other people that were in attendance have since tested positive.  That’s nearly 3 weeks in the past now, so it seems I would be showing some symptoms by now.  So staying put now is mostly about doing what I can to slow the spread and being a good example to others.
  2. Reading.  I’ve got a huse stack of books that I’ve been looking for an excuse to read.  Excuse delivered (although I would have much prefered to have won the lottery or even to have been fired as the excuse).
  3. Cooking.  Since we’re not going out much, we’re cooking a lot more.  This is a good thing, mainly since we already know how to cook (I can imagine it would be less so if that weren’t the case).  Of course cooking means that we get to eat, but its also something for us to do together and gives us something to do that we know is taking care of us and others.  Another way I am taking care of myself (since I am eating what we are cooking) is exercising ;-).
  4. Helping.  I’m mostly trying to help my church stay conected through the next few weeks, but also helping local businesses by buying gift cards through their websites as a way to get them cash as their business drops.  I’d donate if they’d let me.  Our church is closed to gatherings for the next few weeks, so I am helping out there by getting them setup to live stream a service and putting together tech guides and support for lay leadership to continue to do their work while we are practicing social distancing.
  5. Working.  While my backlog of to do items is getting a little thin, I am “going” to work each day (translation: chaning from PJs into clothes and going to my home office in the basement).  I do understand that it’s a tremendous privelage to be able to continue working AND to stay at home that not everyone has.  I am grateful for it but don’t feel guilty.

What I’m not doing

  1. Hoarding.  I am enough and I have enough.  My last trip out on Monday was for enough to let us stay put for a couple weeks (and included no TP…we already had enough of that…and there wasn’t any).
  2. Panicing.  I am finding a way to be vigilent without being anxious.  I am finding a way to pay attention to what’s going on without obsessing.  I am finding a way to notice what is new without assuming that everything “normal” is out the window.
  3. Wallowing.  I don’t think this is the end of the world.  I do think this is a time we will talk about as “before” and “after”, but we’ve had those before (9/11, financial crisis) and made adjustments and moved on.
  4. Watching sports.  Since there isn’t any.  While I support the decision 100%, a small tragedy in all of this is that we won’t get to spend our time watching March Madness.  I do think there is a huge opportunity for EA Games to do a massive e-sports basketball event, having the teams play each other online. I’d watch.
  5. Going out.  This may seem obvious since I am mostly staying put, but it is one that I have to keep in mind since I do really enjoy going out (to dinner, to a show, to a bar, etc) and honestly its the one that makes me feel most like I am over reacting. I am refraining from judging others that are going out in the hopes that they will respect my choice as well.

This is where I am today.  I used to write here in search of some ineffible truth.  Now I recognize that all I can do is capture the state of my mind as it is.  My hope is that I will read this in a few months and laugh at most of it as serious over reaction.  Time will tell.

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