It’s been a while since I’ve done an uncategorized “Musings” post, though I’m still tagging this with “Mindset” since I think it fits most closely to that realm of things. By this point, I’m sure you’ve experienced some kind of impact from the spread of this particularly virulent disease. Whether, like me, you’ve been told to work from home for an indefinite amount of time, or you’ve bumped up against shortages at the grocery store, or are perhaps suffering economically.
I had another post planned for today, but something about this situation just compelled me to put my thoughts down on [digital] paper in proper blog fashion.
Let’s Talk Problems
I’m not going to get into the political poo-flinging that we’ve got over the response to this thing. Frankly, it’s not relevant. What is important, though, is the effects that we can actually see.
The stock market is a mess, the Fed crashed interest rates to 0% with room to go negative in the future, and the public is well on the way to outright panic.
Police stations are starting to tell the public that they will no longer respond in-person to many calls. Store shelves are barren of many things, from toilet paper (of all things) to baby formula. There are a handful of enterprising, if misguided, entrepreneurs trying to take advantage of the situation- with predictable results.
From where I sit and watch, it just seems like there’s an awful lot of people perched on the brink and just waiting to tip over. While it was a convenient storytelling device for equipment, Scenario-X seems more and more like a reality with each passing day.
How did we get here?
Earlier this month, in Episode 23 of the podcast, I toughed on three areas that I saw as major concerns for our modern culture.
- Poor Culture: an acceptance (and even celebration) of weakness with a commensurate lack of social shaming techniques
- An overabundance of short-term thinking rather than focusing on long-range goals and possibilities
- Normalcy bias: tendency to think that because things have always been one way that they will continue to work that way
Coincidentally, I also think that these three reasons are why things are quickly getting out of hand not only here in the US but in other western nations. I see a lot of people saying we should have followed the example of South Korea and Japan, who blunted the virus’s transmission. But, culturally, I think they were able to pull it off because they don’t have the same problems with the points above.
When you think about it, it’s kind of an unholy trinity of negative characteristics. We’ve all but lost the ability to hold one another accountable for our poor actions for fear of “shaming them” harms their fragile psyches. While the intentions are noble, it also means that we’ve grown accustomed to letting people get away with otherwise crummy behavior because there simply aren’t consequences.
There’s an entertaining story I hear from time to time recounted from Eric Haney’s Inside Delta Force. He tells the story of Frank MacAlyster, a battle-hardened veteran of special operations as he woke up from a nap on a C-130 cargo aircraft.
On one hand, I really like this story because it teaches about focusing on the problem directly in front of you and trying to solve that first. That’s short-term thinking, and it’s really important for keeping focus on what’s happening right now.
But at some point, you’ve got to think about what’s going to happen next, or even ten steps from now. In this story, Frank may have escaped the burning plane, but gravity was certainly going to do its thing and the ground wasn’t going to give him a better result if the plane were actually in the air.
So where am I going with this?
People Still Aren’t Aware
I was scrolling through Twitter and came across a post that I thought illustrates this point well. This woman was driving through the city flabbergasted that people are buying guns and ammunition during the panic over the virus.
The comments generally supported her. Americans, they say, are foolish to think that guns are going to do anything about the virus. These people are clearly crazy!
Wouldn’t they be better off with common sense things like hand sanitizer, food, and more toilet paper?
Look, I’m not trying to call out the snarky “holier-than-though” behavior of anti-gun Californians. Well, not explicitly. But what I am pointing out is that these kinds of people are only thinking about the short-term and not the broader long-distance picture of what happens next.
Of course, other users jumped in to “correct” these people about things like stabbings in parking lots over TP, or home invasions to take supplies. I did notice that one person expressed that they couldn’t imagine shooting a home invader over something like a little food or toilet paper.
But that’s not the point. It’s what happens after people get away with it and decide to escalate that really worries me. That goes back to point number one above: we are at a point where there are rarely real consequences to bad actions anymore.
People like our friends above can’t draw the connections between allowing short term problems to become long term travesties.
To round out this section, here’s my challenge to you: start talking about things. If you don’t challenge people’s beliefs that things are going to be just fine when the evidence is mounting to the contrary, then you’re just allowing weakness to fester.
I’m not saying to go off the deep end in the other direction and go all “doomsday and brimstone,” either. Just have a real conversation about the “what ifs” and lead people down a thought exercise.
So What are the Lessons, Matt?
I titled this whole thing lessons learned from COVID-19 So Far. So what exactly are those?
Firstly, it should be obvious that the time to prepare for something is not after the thing already starts. We’ve all known and been told for years that we should take advantage of low cost and ample supply to build up stores of shelf-stable food, household goods, and ammunition.
But how many had all of those things completely taken care of when these shortages happened? I’ll admit, there were a few gaps in my supplies that I managed to address before the panic really picked up- but I was still worried.
That’s the result of short-term thinking and normalcy bias. “I can get that next month” isn’t always true.
Secondly, we need to all take a second and appreciate just how thin the veil of civility really is. As soon as something as trivial as toilet paper got even a little difficult to find, people were fighting in the stores, stabbing others in parking lots, and generally going crazy.
Over toilet paper.
What do you think it will be like when it’s basic necessities like food on the line? That’s what scares me.
Lastly, I think there’s a major lesson to be learned about building connections with those around you and keeping your mind engaged. My wife and I are digging into books on the shelves, playing new board games, and trying to stay connected and calm. We’ve also been communicating with neighbors to make sure everyone is doing ok.
Don’t live in isolation, maintain human connections, and build trust with those around you. If things get real bad, these are the people you’re going to rely on.