Are We Learning in COVID?

What Are We Learning In COVID?

With every adventure, it's a good idea to look at what we are learning, to manage our failures, then direct our future toward success.  Some say that's not so with things largely out of our control (like COVID), but there are always things to learn, and ways to improve how we respond.

Are We Learning in COVID?The pandemic of 2020+, often just called "The Pandemic" or "COVID", has changed some things, probably forever.  So, what have we learned, and what are we re-learning again and again?

Here is my list.  Some are observations only - since I can do nothing about them.  Some are things we, as a society, can learn and benefit from (if we choose to).  And some are more personal having to do with how I interact in this time of societal distress.  Perhaps your list is similar?  Perhaps your list is quite different?

Either way, I am sharing the list in hopes that others too, might take a moment to think about moving forward differently.

What Are We Learning? - My COVID List.

1. Holing up brings some unintended consequences, both good and bad.
  • Time with families.  I live by a city park, and love to watch from my front porch.  We love seeing people out having fun, especially children playing.  An immediate shift we observed was an increase in the number of families, especially dads, out playing with their kids.  In my mind, dads taking time with their kids is a phenomenal benefit - to the kids, and to society.  That has decreased as the pandemic has rolled on, but I think we should hang on to that.
  • Time with my family.  My kids are grown and don't like playing the park so much, but during the lockdowns, we definitely spent more time as a family.  Without outside demands, I also spent some great time with my wife.  Yes, more walks, more talks, more fun time exploring - building our relationship even more.  For that time I am thankful.
  • Loneliness.  For my mother (and so many others) in an assisted living apartment, banishing all visitors was really tough.  Increased phone and video calls helped, but many people in her building were not so lucky.  They got the isolation without the added electronic distractions.
  • A lack of social interaction took a toll on many people.  Social media and other distractions only go so far, and I think many experience a deeper longing for human contact.  I believe the mental health side of our society has taken a hard turn.
  • More time for hobbies and expanding the mind.  With fewer demands from outside, and with time to fiddle, hopefully you are like millions that have grabbed the opportunity to build stuff, or make home improvements, or explore more of a hobby, or take an online class, or learn something you've always wanted.
2. We have a new definition of "Freedom"
  • To me, concepts of "Freedom" are somewhat confusing.  On the one hand, it's doing what we want.  On the other, freedom has responsibility.  Example:  The rapist is free to commit atrocities, but in doing so, takes freedom and priceless virtue from the victims.  As a society, we define the responsibility for violating another as unacceptable, so we restrict future choices.
  • With COVID, our society is grappling with these "Freedom" concepts.  With the rapist, there is intent.  In spreading COVID, it is not the intent to maim or kill, even if it is the result.  Does that make it OK?  Or is it involuntary manslaughter?  As a society, we are not assigning responsibility.  Freedom only works when there are limits at the boundaries of another's rights.  (I am not suggesting enforcement, but I do think the perspective is eye-opening.)
  • The new definition of "Freedom" revolves around "no responsibility", or around mandates from government, industry, etc..  This new definition fails because mandates by their very nature violate some aspects of freedom.  Hence, the conflict.
  • How do we resolve this freedom incongruence?  Laws don't stop rapists, so how are mandates going to stop people who refuse to give a little grace?
  • One important lesson:  Freedom relies on the good-will and considerate actions of all.  Unfortunately, in this stressful time, even people who are normally very kind don't see their actions as being unkind or inconsiderate.  We don't want to think of ourselves as accomplices to manslaughter, so we raise the deflection flag of "Freedom".  (It's like smokers that don't see throwing their butts as litter.  For some reason, there is a disconnect.)  I see the same with Freedom and COVID.  It's not exactly the same, but still there is a disconnect.
3. People are naturally pretty self-centered.
  • Yes, I know, this is nothing new, but COVID brings a disturbing new low.  Seriously, fighting over toilet paper?  Angry accusations about _____ (fill in the blank) - almost anything trivial.  Reactivity does not make us better.
  • On the good side, many people are showing greater care for neighbors.  (Who is my neighbor?  Parable of the Good Samaritan.)  We see people volunteer, with time and money to help those less fortunate - in food, in clothing, in housing, etc..  I salute those people !!!  THANK YOU.
  • Isolation is hard on everyone, and I suppose grandparents have a special bad case.  However, that's not an excuse.
    • Example:  One man decided he just had to go see his grandkids.  Because he did, he contracted COVID, and his grandkids no longer have a grandfather to see.  His co-workers had to quarantine for weeks, and one co-worker's grandkids no longer have a grandmother to see.  His one act of "perfectly understandable" selfishness resulted in heartache for his children, grandchildren, his co-worker and all their family.  On top of that, the disruption for his employer and all the other co-workers in the office.  What a legacy of selfish stupidity!!
  • Masks.  OK, I get it.  I hate wearing a mask too, but I do it anyway.  It's not for me, but to show respect to you.  I don't know if I am possibly infected, so I will give you respect by wearing the silly, uncomfortable, nasty mask.  See Freedom above.  Need I say more?
  • The COVID pandemic has certainly brought out the better and the worst in people.  Better, because many people are more willing to give, and Worse, because we are often less willing to give - often within the same person, over different things.  No wonder mental health has deteriorated.
4. Work from home.
  • With all the requirements for separation, more people have been working from home than ever before.  Some really like hanging in their pajamas all day, while others have loathed the solitude.
  • We have each learned how to accomplish the "work at home" paradigm in different ways.  For some, the challenge is to stay focused.  And others, the challenge is to stop working when the workday is over.  For many people, productivity has gone up, while others find it an obstacle.
  • For many people, the living room (or dining room) has found a new purpose - either as the office or the gym.  Some of us struggle with separation of work and family, while others find they can mix easily.  How many bedrooms now have a desk for work, and a backdrop for Zoom?
  • Zoom (and other platforms) haves become the focus of both love and hate.  It's great that we don't have to commute, but it's obnoxious that we can't sit at the table for meetings.  If you're like me, the biggest drawback is not having the before and after conversations where so many great ideas percolate.
  • The "not commute" has given many people more time, for projects, for reading, for relaxing.  It has also had a good effect of fewer cars on the roads, less pollution, less wear-and-tear.  To me, this is one of the best benefits because it's a win-win for everything.
5. Ever greater technology dependence.
  • Like many of the above, this is a double-edged sword.  Technology brings so many things to our fingers, but it isolates us from seeing the bigger picture.
  • Social media has been a lifesaver for many who need some human interaction, yet at the same time it's promises are almost always empty.  We interact, but it's just not the same.
  • Video conferencing and the telephone have been so wonderful for staying in touch - like with my mother in assisted living.  On the other hand, not being able to have many visitors is hard for her.
  • With video conferencing so common, it's easy (and normal) to jump on a Zoom with people far away.  In that way, at least for me, the world has become smaller.  Now I get to converse with distant people more often - without the jet lag.
  • While I don't prefer the techno-meets, in engineering it's been coming for a long time.  Accelerated, by COVID, serving customers is perhaps more efficient, but maybe not as effective.
  • Meetings, email, text have all become more useful (to me), but the interactions are so much shorter.  It's hard to have certain conversations when not in person.  I feel like I've lost track of so many people.  I can only imagine how some people are dealing with this.
6. Where's my package?
  • Supply chain function has certainly been tested.  I was a pretty well oiled machine, until we gave it the stress test.
  • Suddenly we have packages for everything.  Make an order at the grocery store, and if they don't have something, tomorrow FedEX will drop it in yet another box on your doorstep.  Do we really need it that bad?
  • Then there are the things we just can't seem to get.  Some supply issues have ground things to a stop.  We needed a small voltage regulator for a prototype - what should have been on the shelf took 9 months.  A huge hiccup.
  • Prices for certain items have skyrocketed.  Yes, supply and demand, but WoW.
  • Have we reduced everything to a box?  We're mowing down the forests to ship every little thing.  So, we get more delivery trucks, and longer delays.  The urgent and the trivial are all the same, and they all come in yet another box.
  • This is one area I'd like to see streamlined.  OK, we all want our next widget, but do we really need 3 stops by delivery trucks in a day?
  • I don't know the best approach, but it seems we could benefit from some "urgent" and "not-urgent" piles.  There are complaints about the post office, but one thing they do well is come once a day and deliver everything all on a specific route.  I, for one, would be happy if FedEX, UPS, Amazon, etc, came to my part of the city only every other day, and never on Sunday.  That would cut the running around in half, really fast.  Do you have ideas?
  • How do we decrease the number of boxes (and the excessive space filling stuff in a box)?
7. This COVID pandemic could have / should have been over a long time ago.
  • How can I say that?  Yes, we are in control of our own destiny (speaking collectively, not individually).  It takes all of us to reduce or increase the effects of the pandemic.  This is interesting as a contrast to other influences that we as individuals can't control on our own.
  • For the era of WWII, there are many stories of how people pulled together to tackle the larger (external) influence, and the local (neighbors) repercussions.  It was a terrible time, and in the same moment, there were many wonderful things that happened.  If we could now show that same kind of joining together (by staying at a distance), the effects of this COVID pandemic would be far less severe.  Dare I say over?
  • I said in April 2020, if we will all isolate completely for 6 weeks, it will be done and over.  And, truly, it would have.  But, see the above discussions about Freedom and Selfishness.  So, 2 years later, here we are.  To me, this looks like a lesson we (our society) is not willing to learn, so we just keep going with more mandates, closures, sickness, accusations and contention.  For this, I am truly sad.
  • I hear of people all the time that got sick, then went out for what they wanted anyway.  Or went to work anyway -- because their little thing is more important that another person's health.  (Selfish Freedom?)  The sickness just keeps being spread around by the lack of care for each other.  At this rate, the pandemic may never be over.
  • Certainly, we need love for our neighbors more than a vaccine.

Mind Blown

We are the richest nation in the world, and some say the smartest.  We brag about being the greatest society, yet we are not the most populated, nor the most densely populated.  However, the USA has by far the most sickness, and the most COVID deaths.  We have spent the most on hospitals and medical help, yet we continue in selfish endeavors to spread the disease in spite of the suffering of so many.

Perhaps we think our one little thing won't make that much difference - or maybe we just don't think?  So, strike that, we are not the smartest and we probably don't deserve the society we live in.  Our ego for a warped sense of Freedom has us doing all sorts of shameful things - like storming the Capital, destroying property in the name of racial equality, letting criminals off because we don't want to keep them in, fighting over toilet paper or masks.  (So we get clean bums and filthy mouths.)

The Stupidity and hypocrisy blows my mind.

Even though we know it, and we know how stupid it is, as a society we persist anyway.  We find some warped justification in the conditions of COVID.  It's not about BLM or Trump or tissue or crime - not really - it's about us acting badly, speaking inappropriately, and allowing our emotions of the moment overrule consideration for our future.

Shame on us.  We all need to turn the other cheek, smile more, and show a little more love.  We have totally forgotten "what comes around goes around", and we seem angry that we're getting what we planted.  Join with me, please, and let's re-plow and re-plant for happiness, kindness, and respect.

We are stuck in this COVID thing anyway, so let's make the best of it, and help each other with kindness.

Your Turn

Some bits of the COVID pandemic we have handled well.  In other areas it's a mixed bag, and unfortunately, in many ways our "modern and enlightened" society has seriously missed the "modern and enlightened" mark.

So, those are my observations.  In some things I have indicated things we can learn.  In other areas, I don't have conclusive things to change to do better.  Isolation, for instance, ties tightly with the discussion about Freedom, and technology dependence, but it is what it is.  What are we learning?  Probably not nearly as much as we should.

Now, I'm interested in your take.  Please leave your observations and lessons in the comments.

Does it seem weird to have this article on an Engineering Website?  We are all citizens of the world, so whether it is Engineering, Accounting, Dance, or Politics, we should all be engaged in making the world better for everyone.  For more, see our other articles about Social Causes.

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