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3 Lessons from this Pandemic That Might Shape Our Future

This author gives three lessons to learn while we are in quarantine.

I’m about four weeks in to my coronavirus-induced working staycation, and I’ll admit that my emotional state has felt like it’s been given a fast pass at a roller coaster park: a lot of up and down; some boredom as I’ve waited for the next ride; a regimen of unexpected stops and starts; some fear, but also a little comfort in knowing that I’m not the only person taking the rides.

My trips to Six Flags rarely result in introspection, but I feel like our present shared experience of trying to flatten the curve from our homes — along with watching the stunning human tragedies and acts of heroism — demand a little reflection.

So, I’ve been wondering: What are we all learning about ourselves in this pandemic? What lessons can be harvested for post-quarantine life? I’ll name just three.

Every person makes waves.

One big takeaway from this pandemic is obviously how interconnected we all are. In writing this, I don’t simply mean that we’re all linked up in a grand circle of life. Nor do I only mean that what my neighbor does will impact me. I mean to say that, in ways I never understood quite like I do now, every single person’s actions cause ripples that can be felt incredibly far from where they began. 

I’ve always thought that the butterfly effect was a preposterous metaphor. This is the theory that the breeze caused by a tiny flitter of a butterfly’s wings can, through a long series of interdependent reactions, lead weeks later to a tornado. 

How silly! 

But maybe not. Or at least maybe I should take more seriously the underlying proposition, which is that small causes can lead to enormous effects. Like, for example, when one sick person gets on a crowded subway, and those passengers then fan out into workplaces and homes across a large city.

Every person really does make waves, and we are all linked together.

Self-sufficiency is a dangerous myth.

So many of us — myself included — take pride in being able to provide for ourselves. And often that’s precisely what it seems we’re able to do. But the last few weeks have underscored for me how much I rely on many other people.

I am more aware than I’ve ever been of grocery store employees and sanitation workers. I probably knew that my city has a public health office, but I’ve never thought about it before. I take for granted the ease with which I can pop into the mall to buy some nice (non-essential) thing, and my hair is well beyond the point where I’d visit a barber to get it cut. I think we’re all more conscious of how much we depend on each other.

But I want to go a bit further on this point. I now think that blithely going about my life, assuming that I was mostly self-sufficient, wasn’t only ignorant. I think it was dangerous — for me and for others.

The myth of self-sufficiency deludes us into thinking that we can handle whatever comes our way, alone. It dulls our reflex to ask for help if help is needed; it cocoons us in a pool of momentary comfort while walling us off from others; it blinds us to how others may rely on us and how we rely on them. And even more: The myth of self-sufficiency is a lie. And lies always do damage.

Enjoying friendships is a privilege.

I’ve never done a virtual happy hour until a few weeks ago. Now I’ve done more than I care to admit! They’re not nearly the same as getting together in person with friends. But they’re not bad, either.

Being able to unwind and to process the news of the last few weeks with my friends has been an enormous blessing. It’s helped my mental health, and I hope it’s been comforting for my friends as well.

But more than just remembering that friendship is a wonderful gift, I recognize now that I am privileged to have the opportunity to enjoy that gift. Many who are sick, or mourning, or too occupied with work or family, simply don’t have the opportunity now to enjoy their friendships. Millions around the world cannot connect via Zoom like I can. Countless others are lonely and facing the pandemic without friends or loved ones.

Friendship is an all-too-often overlooked blessing. So is the opportunity to savor those friendships — and for that I’m especially grateful these days.

There are many lessons being taught during the COVID-19 pandemic. May we have the grace to learn them, and take them into whatever lies beyond this crisis.

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