Maybe this is just an end-of-the-year desperate desire to find some good in what we have been forced to endure for the last 10 months. Or maybe my deeply buried, optimistic side is struggling back to the surface.
Whatever the cause, I actually had a minor epiphany a few weeks ago: what if the horrible nature of the Covid pandemic actually ended up doing some good? What if all the deaths and illnesses were not completely in vain but made us change some important parts of our collective lives?
We must never forget what started earlier this year. How a combination of hubris, political calculations, and the unstoppable force of nature killed and sickened so many and upended our world. But, if we don’t learn some lessons from the experience, haven’t we missed a tremendous opportunity to improve?
To that end, here are some thoughts I had about the potential for change.
Value essential workers. Doctors, nurses, hospital staff, those who work in nursing and retirement care facilities, firefighters, police…the type of people we think of as providing essential service to the rest of us have played a major role in our collective lives since March. These folks have always been necessary but even more so since March. They deserve everything and anything we can do to make their lives a little brighter and the load a little lighter.
There is an entirely new class of essential workers that Covid has exposed, or maybe the better word is spotlighted for us. To borrow a military expression, these are the tens of thousands of people on the front line, providing critical service to us all. After too long filling an almost invisible role, grocery store clerks, stockers, and delivery people have become noticeable for their day-in-day-out labor. The people that work to sort, package whatever we have ordered online, and then drive the trucks that bring all packages to do our door keep us supplied, entertained, educated, and sane during a time when our social moorings have been demolished.
Even though it seems embarrassing to have to point this out, teachers must be on this list. Early on, moms and dads were forced to take on the critical duty of providing for their children’s educational needs, a task many were not really equipped to handle.
Then, when it became obvious this was not going to be a short-term inconvenience, teachers took on the extra load of preparing and teaching virtual lessons, coupled with partial in-person duties, when possible. The men and women we give the responsibility to prepare our children for a meaningful life are underpaid and underappreciated in normal times. Their dedication deserves our strongest support in the midst of a double workload, both emotional and fiscal.
Make clear the importance of relationships. Zoom and its sister apps have saved our collective bacon this year. Many businesses have stayed afloat and functioning, teachers have instructed our kids, family members have shared storytime, birthdays, and other important milestones with these electronic links.
But, quite obviously, we are missing human contact. Hugs, handshakes, in-person greeting, smiles, laughter, tears…The importance to our emotional and physical wellbeing has never been more apparent. Humans are social animals. I venture to guess that enforced isolation is partly responsible for some of the divisions within our country at the moment. We are physically cut off from others; that could easily lead to emotional separation.
Kickstart climate change efforts. I’m sure you remember some of the dramatic photographs from around the world during the early days of the pandemic. With businesses closed, fewer people driving, and large manufacturing plants on reduced schedules, the skies over many major cities worldwide, were suddenly almost free of visible pollution. Mother Nature had taken the opportunity of reduced human activity to blow away the gunk.
Of course, as soon as we began to open back up again in early summer, the pollution returned. What that small window of better air made abundantly clear was our impact on what we breathe and live with. Hopefully, that vivid demonstration of what is possible was not a one-off display but a preview of our future.
Developing a vaccine in record time for Covid should encourage us in the battle against other diseases. Building on what scientists had learned during the SARS epidemic of the rally 2000s, the ability to produce highly effective vaccines in just months was an amazing demonstration of the power of money and knowledge to help all of mankind. While real-life use will probably uncover some issues, the promise of these shots will alter the world’s future moving forward.
Based on this success, one would hope that those working on the treatment and prevention of other diseases would redouble their efforts. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease…the things that kill so many of us are solvable. The rapid work on Covid shows the way forward: a singular focus and the financial support to put these deadly scourges behind us.
Demonstrate the importance of more self-reliance. Locked up at home, severely restricted in shopping opportunities, having away-from-home entertainment come to a screeching halt, finding our children depending upon us for their education…Covid has forced many to rediscover our innate abilities to solve problems and find solutions.
“They” can’t solve everything. “They” may be part of the problem. “They” may actually be making things worse. We have been pushed to become creative and innovative when dealing with the hassles, shortcomings, and dangerous world we now confront. We are stronger than we thought. We have discovered solutions to obstacles on our own.
Rediscovering the joy of cooking and baking at home, or a long lost passion or interest. Learning to be content with ourselves. Finding an unlimited world of entertainment and education online, most of it free for the asking. Finding out shopping is not as important as we once believed it to be. Not missing the hours spent in cars and traffic.
Covid-19 has been a horrific experience. It has exposed the strange sight of sane people denying reality because it is inconvenient. It continues to kill and sicken tens of thousands a day all around the world. It has likely changed parts of the economy and employment options for years to come. Traveling on a plane, getting on a cruise ship, even taking a road trip remains too dangerous for most to consider.
But, like many disasters, from the negative effects may come some positives. As one of the worst years I can ever remember comes to a close, I am turning my eyes and thoughts to what 2021 may hold for us all. Fingers crossed, I think of the upside before us.