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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

What the Coronavirus Crisis Means For You

Global, social and personal lessons to learn from the COVID-19 crisis.

Today I learned that due to the coronavirus outbreak, my family (whom I haven’t seen for a few months) wouldn’t be able to visit me for my birthday in another country.

My other (extensive) travel plans were canceled, and I have no idea what the future holds.

And while it makes me sad, I know I can’t blame the virus for spreading, and the world for going through a crisis. Like other people, I’ll have to adapt.

Fate permitting, as the stoics say.

To not fall into depression, I make myself think about the lessons that the COVID-19 2020 crisis can teach us humans.

Whether you’ve realized it or not, we are going through the most important time of our lifetimes. We are living a story you’ll tell your children and grandchildren about, and which they’ll read in history textbooks.

As of today, I see takeaways on three different levels: the global, the social, and the individual.

Two Global Takeaways

The coronavirus matters. It’s big. It’s serious. Failing to realize this is like assuming that the world is squared (although there are people like that).

It’s not about other people. It’s about you.

#1. The Failed Orchestra

The year 2015 came, then 2020, and still no hoverboards promised by the Back To The Future are around.

Yet, we have something that no science-fiction writer ever imagined: the ability to send dancing TikTok videos from London to New Zealand in less than a split-second.

We live in a connection economy.

And yet, as a species, we still can’t use that amazing technology to come together and solve the big problems.

Take global warming. It’s been more than three decades since the Paris Agreement when the world at large acknowledged a problem. Since then, every major media outlet has made thousands of stories on the subject.

But most journalists learn a painful lesson: sometimes everyone can nod to an existing problem and still do nothing about it.

Some people (and I will avoid pointing fingers) still refuse to believe that global warming is real.

The coronavirus outbreak is the same. Yes, the virus is spreading too quickly. Yes, there is an exponential growth (which humans are terrible at predicting). Yes, the politicians are trying hard.

But it’s not enough. If you look at what’s happening in Italy, Spain and soon, all the other European countries, you’ll see that everything is happening too slow.

Nobody learned from the example of China. The countries are not working in accord.

On the contrary: every country has its disjointed policy on travel restrictions, medical treatment, etc. — which makes everything even more confusing.

The system of separate governments might have been working for some 500 years, but not anymore. The problems we face require a different type of coordination — unified, decentralized — and they’ll just keep coming and accumulating, until the whole system breaks.

There needs to be an alternative for centralized, disjointed decision-making.

#2. The Chinese Problem

«Made in China» is a synonym for a mass-produced, low-quality product. This is not true, because most of the brands in the US (including Converse, which is famously «Made in America») are produced in China.

China’s production is good. In fact, too good.

What we’ve learned in January-February of the COVID-19 outbreak is that we are all addicted to China. Without it, nothing works.

China gets sick — boom! The economy crashes, supply chains stop, businesses go bankrupt, and no margins are made. It’s a typical fragility problem of a turkey having fun for 364 days before Thanksgiving comes. How did we get to this stage?

We need an alternative — be it Russia, Korea, Vietnam, or even the US — for production. China is great, but we need to solve the «Chinese problem.»

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Photo by Daniel Tafjord on Unsplash

The Social Takeaway

Recently my GF and I were recording a podcast, and we conducted the following thought experiment: How would the world change if everybody started working from home?

Well, you don’t need to conduct a thought experiment for that anymore, because it’s happening.

People all around the world are being told to self-isolate and work from home. I look outside, and I’ve never seen so many people wandering in the neighborhood. They look happy, too.

Working from home is not a new idea. Jason Fried from Basecamp popularized the concept through books such as ReWork, and It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. I’ve been working from home my whole life, except for a year of office slavery at my dad’s company.

I hope that being forced to work from home, we’ll realize that it’s better.

Employers will recognize that they can cut costs by having a decentralized team. Employees will suddenly realize that they have more time to do what they love by saving hours on the commute.

By having more free time, people will start asking themselves important questions, such as «What do I want?» or «What’s important to me?»

And by avoiding “showing the work” (along with scrolling Facebook until the clock hits 5 PM), more work will get done.

But with great power comes great responsibility.

For me working from home is natural. But I can imagine that for some people, the adjustment might be difficult.

No doubt — after so many years of brainwashing, and following instructions, how can someone discipline themselves? Some people will be able to adapt and discover their true passions, possibly quit their old jobs.

While others won’t be and will spend their days playing Call of Duty.

The coronavirus crisis is here for a long time — a year, possibly more. I wonder what kind of society we’ll be after the crisis is over.

The Personal Takeaway

The hardest, and the most overlooked part of the coronavirus pandemic, is the individual struggle. There are a bunch of things we can worry about:

  1. Inability to plan for the future.
  2. Cancellation of travel plans.
  3. Crisis-inflicted business problems.
  4. Stock market plunge.
  5. Not being able to leave your house.
  6. Not enough groceries in the stores.
  7. Old people are dying, possibly friends or family.

So on, so forth.

I found that the only cure to these worries is to: avoid reading the news (you already know everything you need to), avoid social media, and put your old relatives in self-isolation.

But apart from the worry, the coronavirus is a real challenge to people’s perception of life.

Life has changed and did so at a blistering speed. If only a month ago, you could plan for the future 6–12 months ahead (at least), now you can’t even plan a week in advance. Nobody knows what the future will be like and what new challenged we’ll face.

It’s not only about the travel restrictions, or not being able to go out as much. It’s about the general worldview. It changed. And so should we.

The old map doesn’t work anymore. So — we need to construct a new one in place.

We need to learn to live in one place and find satisfaction in the simple things at home. We need to gain value in what we’ve already got.

And by taking precautions, we learn to take responsibility not only for ourselves, our families but for the world as a whole.

What we are going through right now is not just a health or economic crisis, but a change crisis. Like in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, the crisis exists to point us towards the (only available) right action.

That action is to learn. To see the new world for what it is.

And to change with it.

People who are going through hard times due to the COVID-19 crisis, and feeling overwhelmed by the unknown, should refer to philosophy.

The stoics had a «Reserve Clause» for occasions like these. When someone says fate permitting, that’s a reserve clause. The Stoics acknowledged that at least part of the outcome is not under their control. Hence, when something doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to, it’s natural. It’s not your fault. There are forces you can’t control.

You can only control the process, not the outcome.

Fate permitting.

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