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10 lessons to learn from COVID-19

My perspective on the things we all must learn from the main crisis of 2020

Now, I assume you are right now in the same situation stuck at home, going slightly mad from running out of options for self-entertainment on the weekends and ruminating about how might involuntary confinement feel like.

For me, the fact that there are fewer things to do outside has liberated more time to write.

Having a true passion for writing (and not at all because I am bored to death) I have summarized my take on the lessons we must learn from surviving the notorious COVID-19.

Lesson #1. We were not prepared.

The virus pushed all companies to work remotely and it took only one day to expose a bitter truth— we were completely unprepared.

With all that technology within our reach, we have been failing to utilize it effectively enough so that we could transition to work from home, if not seamlessly but at least somewhat smoothly.

It is funny, but it almost seems like nature nudges us in the direction of technological progress: “Come on, petty humans! You can do better than that!”

Leaving aside what can be perceived as a tragic side of recent events, I believe that the forced transformation should have happened and it must only be considered a good thing. Personally, I am convinced that the change that is happening at the moment is positive. We will get through this together, and we will re-emerge — smarter, stronger, more adaptive, and definitely more resilient.

No matter how complex becomes our internal organization we are still a part of nature, and nature reminds us about its ruthless, unbreakable law to which now all companies must comply:

Evolve or die.

Lesson #2. The world is small.

What happens in one corner of the world affects the whole world.

It is arrogant and ignorant to think that the suffering that occurs in one part of the world has nothing to do with you while you are playing in your safe zone, and the recent outbreak of COVID-19 is the strongest argument for this.

14 hours. This is how long it took me to fly from Taipei to Toronto. And this is exactly how long it would take me to bring the virus to Canada had I been infected when I landed.

Remember the World War Z scenario? This is a happy-ending type of film. In the real world, should the outbreak of a virus that deadly occur, we would all be dead by the end of the week.

Somewhere in a parallel universe, we all have cosmic consciousness and we all feel personally responsible for everything that happens in this world. In this reality, the best we can do is not to cultivate a mental attitude of a bystander. We must be proactive, informed, and react fast to the rapid changes in the environment but most importantly we must foster kindness and compassion.

Lesson #3. The West must meet the East.

Do you know why Asia was so effective in tackling the COVID-19? One of the answers is simple: Culture. I am taking South Korea as an example just because I had the pleasure of living inside this culture for the past 6 years and learned it firsthand.

  • Koreans are hard-working. I can only imagine how hard Korean healthcare professionals have worked for the past several months. Please note, I am saying this not to diminish the efforts of healthcare professionals from all over the world, or to say that one nation is more hard-working than the other. What I am saying is that the culture of intense work ethic that translates in every single industry definitely helps in overcoming the crisis.
  • Koreans have a culture of wearing masks and using sanitizers. The culture of wearing masks was created not from the notion that masks look fancy (although many have convinced themselves in that). In South Korea, wearing a mask is simply a necessity. The so-called “yellow dust” that comes from China aggravated by Korea’s own emissions oftentimes makes breathing outside not just intolerable but truly hazardous. The culture of self-care and using masks significantly facilitated flattening the COVID curve.
  • Koreans follow the rules. “If the government says so, we must abide” — that is a general mindset in South Korea. And that is OK. In the countries where the government is somewhat functional, the citizens don’t have a problem with actually listening and taking to heart what it says. The Eastern mentality of prioritizing the collective good wins against the Western mentality that prioritizes the individual, when it comes to recovery of the nation.

There are many things that the West can learn from the East. But there is a significant obstacle on the way of learning and that is our next lesson.

Lesson #4. Prejudice is an enemy.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. There has been a lot of blame circulating both online and offline.

Koreans blame Chinese. The whole world is blaming Asians. The bus driver who dropped me off last Sunday was blaming those who cough on his bus.

Well, we can continue to play the blame-game, but the real question is:

How does it help us?

“They are bad, and we are good! They jeopard our lives, and we are so pure and bacteria-free!”

But if you have come to the same realization that was stated in Lesson #1, you should have understood one truth by now — in the grand scheme of things, there is no “they” and “us”. There is only us. We are the people of Earth, and what happens to one happens to everyone.

We must refrain from judging others as one day we might find ourselves in the same position (yes, life is funny that way).

What we must do instead, is to understand objectively if we can locate the fundamental problem and assign it to a specific geographic region. There is no place for resentment or racism in this equation, as those things do nothing but becloud rational judgment.

Lesson #5. We are powerful when we stand together.

When one wants to be protected from the flu he can have himself inoculated with a vaccine. But while there is not enough vaccine for everyone, what action can we all take as people against a pandemic?

We can all become a “social vaccine”.

It is true, we won’t be able to contain the outbreak of the virus by social distancing alone but we can flatten the curve of its propagation and buy some precious time for those who are fighting for our safety at the frontlines, and by doing this buy some time for ourselves.

If there could be only one takeaway from our experience with the current adversity, I wish it was this one, very hopeful discovery:

We make a difference when we act as one.

Lesson #6. A human needs a human.

We only value that what we get deprived of.

The practice of social distancing is the strongest proof of that. We have not realized how much importance we give not just to human interaction but something as simple as a human touch — a handshake of a colleague, an encouraging tap on a shoulder of a teacher, a hug of a friend.

I want to believe that once this is over, we will be able to remember how much we missed that what we lack now — the reality of personal relationships.

However, still, one thing remains true:

The best things happens to those who make the best of what happened to them.

Social distancing must not prevent us from social networking. We must continue working together online. But also, we must take our time. Soak in our solitude, process it, and come out on the other end more mindful about the roles of other people in our lives and more effective in our personal and business communication.

Lesson #7. Knowledge is power.

Self-education is the primary responsibility of every single individual. We must invest our time to dig deep into the problem in order to understand it. Because it is only when we understand it we can implement comprehensive control measures both on a personal and collective level, and shine some light on ignorance that feeds our bigotry and aggression.

COVID-19 is a zoonotic virus. Speaking in layman’s terms, it comes from animals.

Even though bats were identified as the primary reservoir for the virus, we don’t know if it came from a bat soup eaten by a poor lad somewhere in Wuhan and unfortunately, we still don’t know what animals serve as intermediate hosts. What we know is that we indulge in a particular practice that makes the transmission of the virus much easier — the practice of eating meat.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a zealous propagandist of veganism, but I think that with all that knowledge that we have about meat, no one can argue against the reality of the health risks associated with irresponsible meat consumption. Maybe, coronavirus is just an additional and very palpable reason to take a moment and reconsider that juicy steak on your plate.

Lesson #8. There will always be someone who capitalizes on the crisis.

No matter how big is the suffering of people, there will always be someone who will see people’s pain as an opportunity to make money.

Those who are trying to capitalize on the crises are the ones who seed the panic. Those are the people who celebrate quietly observing from the shadows how panic wreaks havoc on the local economy.

Grow in awareness and do not participate in spreading the news that brings nothing but agitation and anxiety. If the information doesn’t have practical value it must be extinguished with the power of your mindfulness and indifference.

Stay alert. The only way to disarm scammers is to disengage from panic and act in a cold-minded and organized way. It is not the end of the world. At least not yet.

Lesson #9. Clarity is everything

The Circle of Influence, the Circle of Concern —my favorite tool of Stoicism. When the chaos starts, divide all things between the two circles. Attain clarity on the things that you can control and the things you can’t.

What you can’t control:

  • Pandemics
  • Economics
  • Capital market
  • Weather
  • Media
  • Other people

What you can control:

  • Your time
  • Your plan
  • Your value
  • Your attention
  • Your reaction
  • Your surrounding

Energy flows where attention goes.

Deprive the things that you can’t control of the energy of your attention.

Be the master, not the follower, of your mind.

Make a decision to refuse to be dragged by your mind like a will-less puppy on a leash. Discipline your mind and direct it towards the knowledge that helps you act rationally and the things that are under your control. Be the king, not the horse. What is not in your Circle of Influence doesn’t deserve even the minimum of your attention.

Lesson #10. There is still much room for improvement.

When the time comes to tell the future generations about how progressive and developed we were back in 2020, what are the stories that we will be telling our grandchildren? I think this is something we all should meditate about.

I imagine a scene: the year 2065, a nice winter evening, I am old and mellow sitting near a crackling fireplace crackling in the living room of my cozy big house.

“Hey Grandpa, can you tell us about that virus crisis in 2020?”

“Well, kiddos, we were fighting over the toilet paper.”🧻

Conclusions.

There is much to learn from our experience. We need to think both as individuals and as people, why what happened happened, process the damage, and move on wiser and more “upgraded”.

Today, we should all see self-isolation as an opportunity to reflect on where we stand and where we go.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, be safe, protect your family and do your best. We will get through this. Together.

Thank you for reading this essay.

If you would like to learn more about my work, here is my book “Meditations of the Millennial”.

If you want to support me on my mission, please, share this book with someone you love. Maybe they will find what they seek on its pages.

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