Fear... and Tranquility: What's Beyond COVID19
If you are reading this, you probably know that I am not a doctor. I haven’t even played one on TV. I did, however, stay at a Holiday Inn once, but it ended with me stabbing myself in the hand trying to get a burnt English muffin out of the toaster. So, let’s be really clear here and indicate that you should never, ever take medical advice from me. (Apparently, no one should take my advice on their selection of ties either, as my best friend in the world would tell you. But she also has an irrational fear that she will ultimately be felled by an owl, so take that for what you will…)
Regardless, the point, and I have one, is that despite the fact that I am a lawyer, and not a doctor or any other profession, it does not stop me from having thoughts on what has been going on in the outside world. And as we transition from the quarantine of COVID-19 into what will be the new normal, I can sense the uneasiness of people at work, when I travel in town, shop in stores, and live among the community.
So, I wanted to take a few minutes and talk to you about the next steps that we will face together.
As I am sure you see in your own daily lives, people have, from the beginning of this pandemic, taken a variety of approaches as it relates to their own health and safety. Some have isolated
themselves from the outside world completely. Others have ignored the calls for safety measures and proceeded as if the pandemic was simply a vague wave of sickness that was only talked about but not something that would happen to them or their loves ones. Most people seem to fall somewhere in between.
What was and is the right approach? Only you can decide that. I certainly cannot provide any guidance for the general community on that issue. But here’s what I would say. Let’s not forget that under the fear, the unknown, the frustrations, the lack of social interaction, the new normal (whatever that turns out to be), that we are still the same community trying to live, to be happy and make the lives of our loved ones better.
Far too often I have seen people in stores get rude with customer service workers and other patrons for what seems to be very trivial matters. It’s as if the fear, frustration, isolation and the unknown have pent up so much within ourselves that we feel on edge with every interaction. And when something seems amiss, goes wrong, or invades our comfort zone, we recoil and respond with a vitriol that I am convinced would not have existed months earlier. I have witnessed it. I have experienced it. And frankly, I, too have fallen victim to it.
It’s as if the last several months of whirlwind changes in our relationships and society in general have wound us all up so much that the only rational option sometimes seems to be to lose our collective minds and act in a manner that would shock the previous version of us. You know, Aaron Sorkin, playwright and writer, once wrote that “It’s these things. The everyday things. The everyday American things. The 99 cent things that, when you suddenly have to be afraid of them, strike at the center of our equilibrium.”
I have been thinking a lot of that quote recently, because this pandemic has caused our society to fear the everyday things. And if I am being honest, our society seems to now be in fear of the one thing that I couldn’t have previously ever imagined: itself. We have become a society afraid of itself. And that will never be a good or productive place. The fear and frustration of the unknown breeds negativity and an angst that would make the most serene person’s skin crawl. And we can see that happening right before our eyes.
So what do we do? How can we turn the fear into tranquility? Or at the very least, something less fearful and more productive?
For starters, I would suggest the following: Patience. Communication. Grace.
Patience may indeed be a virtue, but it is one of the toughest things to have, especially in times like these. We’re all so anxious to get things back to some semblance of normal that we’re all about to go crazy, but we must consider allowing patience to creep in.
Restaurants opening up for business, businesses that have been closed soon to be opening on a wide spread basis, the court system opening more fully, all of these things are wonderful and welcomed. But as you can imagine, everyone else in the community has also been chomping at the bit to go to eat at that restaurant, or support the opening business that you also want to support. And that’s a great thing. These businesses in town need your support, but we also must be mindful that appointments might take some time. Restaurants might have full occupancy.
You may not get the quick court hearing you hope for.
Patience is going to be required because as we all know, it’s not as if society’s floodgates will be opened all at once. Perhaps a better description might be a small faucet, being turned on gradually. This does not negate the fact that businesses will need your support, but please be patient as each business, each worker, each industry finds its new normal. Please do not allow the logjams that are likely, whether it is for court hearings, hair appointments, car repair or whatever it is destroy your capacity for patience.
Some people in my life tell me I am too patient at time. Other times, I have none. I am sure I’m not alone in this regard. But let’s try to attain a level of societal patience that will be of benefit not only to ourselves, but to our reopening community. Patrons need the businesses; businesses need the patrons. It just may take a bit of time to find the correct balance.
Communication is key. How many times have we all heard that? As an attorney, communication is how I make my living, whether it’s through communicating with clients or advocating in the court system on behalf of those clients. So, obviously, it goes without saying that communication is pretty important in my line of work. However, communication does not stop there. (Here’s the part where I admit that my very best friend will tell you that while I may communicate effectively as it relates to the law, my personal communication sometimes leaves a lot to be desired…In my defense, I circle back to the fact that I am human. I am fallible. And she thinks she’s going to be attacked and killed by an owl…so seriously…take that for what you will).
It is true, though, as we navigate these uncharted waters, communication of all sorts will remain absolutely critical as we find the new balance both in our relationships as well as in our communities.
Communicating effectively during these times will allow the patience we are trying hard to attain to be extended further.
As we have discussed previously, people all over are dealing with the pandemic in a variety of ways. Some of those ways might make you uncomfortable. Some might fly in the face of what you
think is appropriate for you, your family, or your business. And while you may agree or disagree with someone’s viewpoint or response to the pandemic and reopening of society, it is important to communicate those expectations to others.
If you are a business who will allow entrance of all patrons whether or not they are wearing masks, then communicate that effectively so that there is no confusion. Recognize that some people may not enter your store if you allow people access without masks because they may not have the same comfort level. If you are required to wear a mask for entry into a business, then it is up to you to decide how to respond. Understand that certain of your patrons will not feel comfortable in this environment and utilize another business instead.
We also must accept that our family, friends, and loved ones also may have different comfort levels as it relates to gatherings, social events, home visits and societal functions. At the end of the day, if people simply try their best to communicate the extent of their comfort level, it will go a long way toward preserving patience and allowing a smoother transition into the post-pandemic world.
Finally, I would encourage each of us to enter the ever-changing world with grace, that courteous goodwill and appreciation that what makes people different also makes society stronger as a whole.
With patience and effective communication, allow people and businesses the grace to act as they deem appropriate as they move forward. We should not try to cram our expectations and desires upon each other, but permit each other the space to navigate the new normal for themselves so each of us, individuals and businesses, can find their respective balance.
In my discussions with clients, colleagues and the court system, everyone seems intent to try and get back to a sense of normalcy as fast as they can, and as fast as reasonably practicable. And let’s be honest, that sounds fantastic. The only downside is the recognition that it cannot and will not happen overnight. And so, we must as a community, support each other and remain as flexible as possible as the various sectors of society reopen at differing rates. Continued support of the community and its businesses is the only way to ensure that the tough economic times we see as a result of the pandemic can be minimized, and put the community’s best foot forward for a stronger tomorrow.
So, there you have it. Patience. Communication. Grace. Now, I’m not a doctor or a therapist. But I am a human, a father, a business owner and a lawyer. And it certainly seems that the best medicine currently would be to combine these qualities to transition from fear to tranquility to
better prepare ourselves to whatever the new normal will be. That, and, of course, staying away from owls.