But not for the obvious reason(s).
As global crises go, this is the most serious in terms of global impact since WW2. It’s a crisis that has certainly given us a stark reminder of how fragile life as we know it actually is.
As a self confessed travelholic, COVID-19 has impacted what I have realised is quite a fundamental part of my life. Trumpian travel bans and Italian lockdowns have scuttled my last two trips, but after the mental dust settled on a (hopefully) temporary wing clip, I reflected on some decidedly more concerning thoughts.
Before I delve into those, some disclaimers:
- I’m not a scientist
- This isn’t a COVID-19 digest. I can’t cover every conceivable angle of the global pandemic!
- You don’t need to agree with me
- If you disagree strongly then comment! BUT…
- …Do so thoughtfully and without vitriol and hatred- I want to learn too!
Let me start with my conclusion and work backwards from there. Thinking, true, deep, silent thinking is on the decline and its impact on society is scary, if not much talked about.
In that vacuum that individual independent thought used to occupy hot takes, talking heads, tik toks, content creators and the mainstream media have conspired to fill the void.
The fundamental issue I see here is that as information has become more truncated, but also more abundant. We are so overwhelmed by information overload and our busy lives that our brain’s have essentially been DDoS’d.
In response, because we can’t think about everything we are bombarded with on a daily basis, we find a few ‘trusted sources’ that resonate with our own worldview and suspend the usual rigour that would usually accompany reviewing ideas and information.
The end result of this is some weird (to me anyway) situation where we have delegated our great privilege of independent thought to others and have efficiently outsourced our thinking to essentially live by proxy.
- When did you last finish a ‘long read’ article?
- Finished a book?
- Read a newspaper cover to cover?
- Sat for an hour and thought about one thing without being interrupted by a notification or other distraction?
- Wrote in a journal?
- Learning something new not related to your job?
I’m confident most of the people I know that would read this post could knock off a good number of these. I certainly can’t confess to all of the above and that is sobering for me.
It’s a scary thought indeed when thinking goes out of fashion, replaced by content-creator-knows-what, because we aren’t really thinking about information as we digest it.
So what happens when we stop thinking, explored through the lens of COVID-19?
Fear and panic spread like wildfire
Society today is so interconnected you just have to infect a part of it, provide the right growth conditions, and you have yourself global panic on an unprecedented scale.
Toilet paper suddenly becomes this season’s must-have accessory (part of me is really worried about what the bulk buyers are doing the rest of the time), the shelves are empty, you start fights in crowded supermarkets and all the other little COVID-19 vignettes I’m sure you’ve heard from friends and family (not you obviously, you are the definition of calm!).
I was rescheduling a majority of my flights last week and the lady on the phone came right out and said she was plain scared- I hadn’t even given the answer to my security questions yet!!!
This fear spreads because we are bombarded with sensational headlines on how scary X is by Y trusted experts, but don’t take the time to really dive into it and understand the issue(s) in our own mind. So you get pulled into the orbit of societal fear, parroting the soundbites you read and hear from your ‘trusted sources’.
Now I’m not saying the talking heads are wrong, a lot of the experts are world leading and very respected. What I am saying is that if you don’t take the time to get to grips with a topic yourself and understand the underlying issues, the summary that said expert provides for the benefit of that news cycle, isn’t the entirety of the picture and you are left in fear because you don’t fully understand.
Even if it is a jolly good summary, it is still that- a summary. The expert has made a decision on what they feel is relevant and important from the data, then was provided a platform or made their own to share their takeaways.
By all means listen carefully, but don’t just stop there. Think!
What does this mean for me? What are the underlying issues? What should I really be worried about? What do I need to do in response?
We’re often scared to delve into the data ourselves because we might not understand it and it sounds so complicated or because we don’t feel we have the time. However, that is the exact moment we should!
An inability for most to think AND ACT for themselves
I’ll confess, two weeks ago I was still planning to travel- BAU. It wasn’t until a very good friend who lived in New York upped and left the city like a bat out of that hot-fiery-place that I woke up a bit. I realised I perhaps wasn’t taking things seriously enough.
I had a real deep think to myself, took in the best information I could find at the time and decided that I should probably stock up on essentials (responsibly) and go into voluntary home quarantine. At time of writing I am still in said quarantine and the UK government is also mandating this.
I have many friends that were way ahead of me on the curve. 3 weeks ago as things were kicking off in Italy, they read the tea leaves and made a decision to fly back home. They looked at the world around them, fast forwarded and made a decisive decision.
They have been proved right, and even if in some parallel universe they ended up wrong, it’s the process I know they went through to act decisively that I immensely respect.
Many of us are waiting for others to tell us what to do for fear of I don’t know what. The same data that the UK government is using to base its decision making on, is available to you. Yes it takes a little bit of time to understand, but once you do there is less fear of the unknown and more decisive decision making.
You are also able to critically evaluate the data & information for yourself and draw your own (*cough* conspiracy *cough*) conclusions…
Exposing societal isolation and lack of tolerance
YES I KNOW WE NEED TO SELF ISOLATE TO DELAY THE PEAK! I’m not talking about that, I’m thinking a little more abstractly- in terms of our mentality and approach to engaging with others.
Remember the memes, jokes and gifs flying about the internet at the start of the year when COVID-19 was a ‘China problem’?
Remember when you felt enabled to silently chuckle at them or not call out the racially charged undertone because it was happening to someone else on the other side of the world?
Well, you’re likely reading this in some form of isolation, so Wuhan isn’t really so far away now is it?
I digress. My point being that we seem to be sadly unsympathetic to other’s needs and the issues causing them until it hits us. Then. Oh. My. Word. Buy. ALL. The. Toilet. Paper.
The underlying issue that COVID-19 has surfaced to me is how deep that feeling goes. I’m not immune to it and neither are you. I’m pretty sure you were chugging along pretty nicely in life until the last 7-14 days…
See the lack of real leadership globally
I feel lingering too long on this point will open me up to all kinds of accusations of political bias, so i’ll be brief.
I live in the UK and there was an alarming lack of communication and leadership as the UK hit crisis point (11th March onwards). I guess you can attribute a lot of that to the ‘keep calm carry on’ culture fuelling the herd immunity camp if you want to be really kind, and an abject lack of care for the most vulnerable if you don’t.
These are the same leaders that we are outsourcing our thinking to. They say you really get to know someone in times of crisis and I think COVID-19 is an excellent opportunity for us all to critically evaluate the competence of the people we have voted to lead us in times of unprecedented volatility.
Some leaders will fail the test.
However, I do hope that a few emerge from the rubble of whatever the world looks like in the next 6-12 months with their perception enhanced, if only to provide a clear example for the others to follow!
I’m also interested to see whether this crisis reveals leaders from unexpected places. Society and it’s associated structures have never been laid so bare, certainly not in my lifetime. COVID-19 has presented a wonderful opportunity for us to rethink these fundamentals.
This is a somewhat articulate monologue, but what are you doing now?
Wonderful question. Let me share 3 neatly packaged takeaways with you.
Think more about the world and things you are passionate about.
It’s OK to just think! I assure you it won’t kill anyone and you might be more fulfilled as a result.
We have become addicted to stimulation and allergic to silence. The silence of our own mind when we turn off all the notifications, distractions and interruptions and be alone with ourselves.
Listen more to people who have demonstrated some level of independent thought.
You don’t necessarily have to agree with them, in fact it’s probably good that you don’t.
Take a little break from the soundbite media and do a little digging for yourself.
When you are faced with a view or idea contrary to your own you have 3 basic options:
1- Reject out of hand with no evaluation.
2- Accept out of hand with no evaluation.
3- Evaluate critically the idea or perspective objectively against your own worldview and then make a decision on whether to accept or reject.
I have learnt so much by evaluating ideas objectively against my worldview. Regardless of the outcome of acceptance or rejection, the process of evaluation leads to a constant, gradual refining of your perspective on the world, which over time becomes extremely valuable.
Share more with people whom you can trust to be truly open and honest about your feelings.
This is hard, really hard.
From what I read, social distancing (spin for self isolation) is going to be measured in months not weeks. For someone like me who has remote worked for years, this isn’t a huge change.
However, for those coming from more traditional work environments, social distancing has some unintended negative consequences and it won’t take too long for people to feel alone in their own homes, with their families.
That’s a shocking thought I know, but let me tell you all is not unicorns and rainbows behind front doors these days.
It’s therefore extremely important that we intentionally migrate our support systems to digital ASAP. We are social creatures and the isolation will be hard for many to ensure without some semblance of connectedness.
At a practical level my digital support system is simply group messaging, video calls and voice notes with my ‘clan’ where we share our findings, conspiracy theories, concerns, fears, plans and everything else.
We get some feedback, some checks, the occasional nudge that we went too far into the rabbit hole but more often than not just a note that someone is listening and also thinking.
I’m conscious this has been a long read, so if you have gotten this far- Salute!
I want to reward you with some positive thoughts:
- In the midst of this crisis and fear, don’t forget to be human. Just because you are socially distancing doesn’t mean you can’t be kind, thoughtful and considerate
- Many people now have at least 2 hours extra per day because they are not commuting. Invest that time wisely! How about you spend more time building relationships with your family, friends & loved ones? Read that book you always wanted to. Learn that language you always dreamed of but was always too ‘busy’.
- Reflect on society as a whole and how you can contribute to it in more meaningful ways.
- Evaluate the assumptions in your worldview. COVID-19 has exposed some fundamental assumptions about how secure the world is. This should not send us into a spiral of fear, but thankfulness that we are now enlightened as to the reality of things.
Stay safe and keep your eyes open for the amazing opportunities that will present themselves. Seize them, don’t shirk them and I’m pretty sure that whatever happens in the world, you’ll be a little step closer to a fulfilled life. At the very least you’ll be staying occupied during this
lockdown social distancing.