The upside of a terrible pandemic

"I’ve never seen such widespread angst and low-grade depression. So, you might think I’m off my rocker when I tell you I’m optimistic about what’s ahead."

This pandemic pretty much sucks. Most of my friends in the PR industry have never worked harder. They’ve essentially been performing crisis communications for six straight months. Many are working at reduced pay, with salary cuts ranging from 10% to 50%. And these are the lucky ones. Others have been laid off, gotten sick or worse.

Then there are the unexpected and unimaginable losses. Kids who have missed their first year of college. Weddings that have been postponed. First-time grandparents unable to visit grandchildren. Funerals that have been limited to 10 people or fewer. Small children at home all day while parents try to work.

I’ve never seen such widespread angst and low-grade depression. So, you might think I’m off my rocker when I tell you I’m optimistic about what’s ahead.

Let’s set aside my worry that our country might literally implode, and start with the notion that collectively, as a civilization, we needed a reset. A do-over.

We were more than a little out of control in our pursuit of productivity, advancement and survival. Each morning we’d get up, mount our individual hamster wheels and pedal furiously until collapsing in exhaustion at night. Then, as Jackson Browne famously sang, we’d get up and do it again. If you can’t recall the nonstop carousel ride, just consider how many times a friend or colleague recounted how “busy” they were.

When my children were growing up, my mom would complain that “these kids today are all over-programmed.” She had a point. Playdates, art classes, travel sports leagues, music lessons, birthday extravaganzas, family outings, homework, AP courses, community service, tutoring, SAT prep. All driving toward — what?

It’s been far worse at the adult level. I looked back at the 12 months prior to the pandemic and discovered I had boarded a plane roughly every other week. Given that most ­flights I took were packed, I know I wasn’t alone in this endeavor. 

We also had to perform something called the daily commute. It was not atypical for people to waste one to three hours a day grinding through traffic.

The pandemic has put an end to this. It has smacked us upside our head and made us slow the heck down. As summer approached this year, my wife and I began sitting in our front yard in the evening. And we witnessed something remarkable.

Instead of a nonstop ­flow of Waze-guided cars weaving through the neighborhood, our block has slowly filled with people riding bikes with their kids, walking their dogs or taking an evening run. It’s been breathtaking and touching in its simplicity. If you’re fortunate enough to be healthy and financially stable, there’s a languidness now to life that has long been missing.

Most importantly, it seems many of us have slowed down enough to open our eyes, open our hearts and examine how we treat each other. I’ve never been more hopeful about addressing racial injustice, gender inequity or the reality of creating a more inclusive world. There’s a reconsideration going on of who we are as a nation, and as a society.

A few weeks into the pandemic, a friend told me there’s an opportunity now for each of us to become “pollinators,” that we can spread kindness and compassion during this once-in-a-lifetime plague that has affected every corner of the world. It’s a chance to right wrongs, reclaim relationships and reconnect with friends, family and community. 

I’m all in.

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