No question about it. These are the times that try men’s souls. We are frightened. We are anxious. We don’t know what will happen next—when the other shoe will drop.
In addition to the pandemic, racial unrest, massive unemployment numbers and hurricane season on the horizon, people are locked in households where they just are trying to carry on—to hold down the fort. I read the other day that many experts predict a massive rise in divorce filings once the pandemic abates. One headline read, “Is It Cheaper to keep Her?” Other articles tell stories of exes getting back together to see each other through the pandemic. Still others discuss the hazards of online dating during a pandemic. Some new connections have talked and emailed for more than two months but have yet to meet in person because of restrictions or quarantines.
Even happy households are having a tough time of it. Family games, jigsaw puzzles, musical instruments, Netflix, birthday drive-bys, and homemade backyard hockey ice ponds have all been on the rise. The positives people report include more family time, more cooking and homemade meals. I have about five friends who have tried making bread for the first time—most with surprising success. More people are reading. More people are writing. And more people are reaching out to old friends and relatives—connections that they have put on the back burner in recent years.
One thing I have found myself pondering during this pandemic is the idea that maybe we shouldn’t jump back to business as usual when the current crisis is over. In the height of my career, I was on an airplane every week. I ordered room service in hotel rooms at 10 pm. My colleagues were on the go 24/7.
Take a look at one segment of work—say office jobs in DC. Many people sat in traffic sometimes up to two or more hours a day. In the process, even if they used public transportation, they were contributing to pollution and energy consumption which both contribute to global warming. Once they arrive at the office, they attend endless meetings, many of which can truthfully be described as wastes of time. The office environment often decreases opportunities for exercise and increases opportunities to eat unhealthy food for lunch—fast food, candy bars, chips, donuts, frozen drinks at your desk, etc. Then there is the rush home from work, feed the kids, take them to soccer practice, monitor homework, and then crash in front of the TV until midnight when the whole rat-race begins again. It’s complicated because some friends say they are exercising more than before and are in much better shape. Others say they have gained the COVID-19 five to eight pounds.
Obviously, there are many downsides to this pandemic from a societal perspective. Social isolation is a huge issue and results in more difficulty with brainstorming, getting group work completed, interacting with others in person to really understand differing points of view. And then, of course, the many nursing homes and assisted living facilities where residents have not seen loved ones for months. So much loneliness. So much anxiety.
Yet, somehow, I don’t think the right answer is to go back to business as usual once the pandemic truly abates. Thousands of people teeming in so many airport terminals may not be the right answer. The mission of many business trips can be achieved remotely. This obsession so many of us have with constantly being on the move may need to be rethought. The value of a more contemplative lifestyle must be reconsidered.
Some businesses are putting plans in place so that their employees can work remotely more—at least two or three days a week on a permanent basis. We have seen increased use of technology—Zoom, Facetime, Google Meet, etc. While none of this is new, the scope and uses of these mediums are spawning increased ways to collaborate remotely—some of them being incredibly creative. (Check out the Hamilton cast singing on Zoom to a young girl who had tickets for a production that had been cancelled.)
There has also been an increased appreciation for teachers. Many parents have talked about how much more respect they have for their children’s teachers now that they have sat with their kids and walked them through their lessons day after day. Let’s hope that this appreciation leads to a demand for higher pay for teachers, as well as other essential workers and first responders. The other side of that coin is that much of the remote education has proved to be less than satisfactory. Many parents report that there is a ton of busy work. They are exhausted from printing and scanning endless worksheets, many of which are far from accomplishing exemplary learning. I have also read articles about teachers in the process of making their online classes more interactive, more creative and more calibrated to the individual needs and abilities of their students.
Also, although we want our favorite restaurants to survive and thrive, perhaps many of us were eating out too much. Getting creative with the food in our fridge and cooking more at home is a good thing. It’s probably healthier for the most part, and it’s a super family activity.
I’m fascinated by the reports of changes in wildlife sightings. A friend in Silver Spring, MD reports that now it’s common to see deer strutting down her suburban street, a sight formerly restricted to the nearby parks. The downside is that braver deer mean braver coyotes, bears and skunks. You probably saw the news reports of the goat herd running down the streets in Wales. Mountain lions have been prowling the streets of Boulder. More birds, including some rarely sighted in urban environments, are being seen by avid bird watchers. And I’m sure many of us have read the stories of the rat crisis in NYC. Because so many restaurants are closed, massive numbers of rats can’t find food and are out foraging in city streets. It’s a rather frightening situation.
So, my point in all this rambling? While not minimizing the suffering and depth of the crisis, we should think through what’s better and what’s worse regarding this confinement. Try to maintain and enhance what’s better and address what’s worse. I have had many zoom virtual cocktail meetings with friends which I have thoroughly enjoyed. But I miss seeing my friends in person. And I realize I have taken for granted the joys of in-person get togethers with friends and family. I have spent more time reading and playing the piano which is good, and I want to be sure to continue those practices when I again have more options from which to choose.
In Wordsworth’s sonnet The World Is Too Much with Us, Wordsworth laments the fact that the industrial world has driven us to strive for material gains rather than take time to contemplate the glories of nature. Maybe the one upside of this pandemic is to in the words of Simon and Garfunkel “Slow down, you move to fast. You got to make the morning last.”
Maria Grant served as Principal-in-Charge of the Federal Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting. Since her retirement from Deloitte, she has focused on writing, music, reading, travel, gardening and nature.