A call for optimism in the crisis!
The impact, that The Virus is having on our lives is unparalleled to anything for most of us who are living in stable societies with a decent to very high level of living standards and wealth. We are more or less locked into our home-offices or as distributed as possible amongst office spaces if we can’t work from home. We aim to keep the public transport uncrowded and available for those, who are absolutely needed to keep our nations up and running: medical and care workers who are doing amazing extra efforts to fight The Virus at the forefront at great personal expense, the friendly people working day and night keeping the supermarkets neatly stocked for all of us and all those who are very busy at the core of our logistic backbones keeping supply chains intact and performing well under significant extra load. So much for the business side of things.
Taking a look into families, we see big efforts to keep the educational system afloat by making parents (who are already busy, e. g. working in forced home-office) to become part-time teachers, assisted by digital means of the schools. We see children stepping up and learning to learn on their own and we see a new level of helping neighbors, especially those who are members of the particular risk group and hence often unable to even go grocery shopping on their own.
I am sure I have missed many others e. g those, who are working relentlessly within the countless crisis committees, managing the effects on different scales from local to worldwide. We all are somehow and somewhat affected by The Virus or by the countermeasures taken to prevent our medical systems from collapsing under too many cases (which is/would be taking the crisis to a much more crucial level with literal life/death-questions in its center).
Yet there is a silver lining: In most societies that we can observe today, the situation bears some chances for a better future. Given the crisis is as bad as it is and likely to get somewhat worse, let’s try to figure out, what these chances might be: For the start, the crisis is impacting most of our lives while not changing it radically, at least not in a sense e. g. a war or a catastrophic nature event (flood, seismic shock, …) would do. We are mostly affected by a disturbance of our daily routines, the lack of travel and a by a changed mode of working.
That does not sound too bad. In fact, it sounds very reasonable, given what impact we produce by following the underlying measures to slow down further spreading The Virus now. So, everybody, who is not at the core of the crisis, fighting against it has probably some capacity left to following the news about it. There are articles out there from every major and minor newspaper, tv-show or blogger, trying to form our perception of the crisis by using one shocking analogy after another. And when that no longer works in putting our minds in crisis mode, they shift over to the analytics story, where proven figures and facts get mixed in with individual assumptions, forming a somewhat blended outlook with an intellectual touch. Overall news work well when the perceived urgency in the need of consuming it is high and a pessimistic shock-effect does work wonders in that department. What is not working is calm optimism. It simply does not appeal to our fight-or-flight instincts or #fomo (fear of missing out).
Given that the situation for many of us is new but not terrible. And given that our way of perceiving the crisis gets worsened by the way we consume (and distribute) news – we all are getting turned into anxious pessimists. And finally, given that we accept these two assumptions as true for us as individuals, why not take a look at the bright(er) side of what this crisis might offer us in the mid- to long-term?
New, visible solidarity
The first thing I noticed was a new born or at least newly visible sense of local solidarity: Neighbors helping each other, some (re-)connect using new online platforms to better coordinate the helping hands with those in need. Scouts and other existing youth groups from fire-fighters to book-lovers are starting actions in order to help in their neighborhoods.
Others keep paying for services (or at least buy some vouchers) from local businesses impacted by the lock-down, some landlords have stopped asking for rent or accepted a later payment etc. This way, the local hairdresser, the restaurant around the corner or the person helping you to clean your home might stay just the little bit longer in business, to actually survive the crisis and being able to serve you afterwards. This is in particular helpful for businesses, where there is no catching up effect: You will not have two lunch-meals a day for a certain period of time once the crisis is over, nor will you get two haircuts at once…
Furthermore, the new solidarity is often found in volunteering. That is great, especially if you can utilize your personal strength and skills in doing so. Just keep in mind to check, if you accidently hurt somebodies’ business (and limit its chances of survival) by volunteering: If there is an existing service, consider paying for that to ensure its survival instead of volunteering in its domain and to focus your time on something else where there is an unmet need.
If this new, visible solidarity survives the crisis for just a few months, our society will have changed to the better. Let us keep that spirit up.
Maturity boost in (digital) Collaboration
Sitting at home while working nearly full time, probably having to take care of the kids and helping the neighbors doing their grocery shopping is a big load. To manage all these aspects at once we have been quite innovative almost out of thin air: We grasped whatever was available to help us to collaborate better. Mostly that have been digital tools from simple task-managers to full blown virtual platforms where working together feels almost natural. The thing these tools all have in common are, that we can share them easily with colleagues, family members and friends. And of course, they are not perfect, but I believe there was never a bigger (yet somewhat forced) acceptance of simply trying out what works best. Schools for example have not waited for the public authority of education to approve a certain tool chain – most of them found out by a quick series of experiments what works best in the given situation for their pupils, their parents and teachers.
Companies, that have invested early into “work anywhere” strategies are benefiting much from their modern understanding of how-to work. Usually seen as a strategy to attract and keep relevant talent, these strategies are paying well into the business continuity capabilities of these companies. Other firms lacked that (lucky) foresight or have chosen solutions that do not scale up well (because e.g. they relied solemnly onto technical-debt standards like classic VPN). They struggle more but like schools their decision-making processes with regards to modern collaboration options seemed to be fast-tracked too.
From virtual meetings to virtual coffee breaks – experimenting with new forms of collaboration (tools) is helping us developing a new maturity. We will know afterwards what did work and what did not. We will have found efficient new ways of doing our work – even in areas where that did not seem to be very likely. Let us keep that momentum going, it makes us a more efficient society.
Fitness & Cooking
And last our nations fitness might improve. Although I do not have much evidence yet to support it other than examples just within a small circle around me – cutting out the daily commute to and from the office saves time. And by the lack of other entertainment, some might use that time to do sports, other start (more) cooking at home. Some might be lucky enough to live close to recreational areas where social distancing comes easy, others might turn their living room or balcony into a temporary gym and the tech-aficionado will probably buy some awesome virtual reality gear with a sports app on it.
Local reality check: When I am looking out of the window, I can spot a few bicycles mounted on training wheels that appeared over the last two weeks on balconies of my neighbors. And by the numbers of recipes getting exchanged over several messenger groups, there is going on a lot of healthy home-cooking. If that is truly a trend, society will become more resilient against further challenges such as the current one – strengthening our overall ability to fight The Virus.
By focusing on the already visible positive side-effects of the crisis we should by no means forget about the tragedy it imposes for many people. There is a lot of work being done currently to reducing/coping with the first-degree impacts and that work will continue to be necessary for quite some while. Afterwards, the second-degree impacts, such as recessions will follow. Our aim should be to make the tragedy more bearable for those fighting it first hand or those who are being crushed by it. One easy thing we, who are not standing in the middle of the disaster, can do, is to keep our spirits up and positive. Let’s push aside the thunderstorm of (mostly irrelevant) news. Pessimism is infectious, probably as much as the virus itself. Optimism is catching – if we let it be. So, let us be optimistic and do our part to make this a better society while the crisis is going and keep it up when it is over. See you on the other side, one optimistic smile at a time.
Picture by Alias 0591 via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 (Links: https://www.flickr.com/photos/renemensen/8751273568 and https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ )