What have we learned from the pandemic and the economic fall-out?

The past year (or more) has been a forced learning experience for most, if not all of us…

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

There’s an old saying that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond.

The past year (or more) has been a forced learning experience for most, if not all of us.

As a college level teacher, I know all too well that there will always be a few students who, no matter what the topic or approach or consequences, will steadfastly refuse to learn from any teacher or experience.

For the rest of you, consider just a few basic principles many of us have in fact learned in the recent past.

First, in my own life and among people I know, much of what we have learned falls into two categories; some things are vastly more important than we thought they were, and some things are vastly less important than we thought they were.

Yes, toilet paper is in the first category, and so are some friends and family members.

Going out to eat, physically going to work and much of our spending might be in the second category – as might be some friends and family members.

Who misses the frenzied schedules too many of us had a year or so ago?

And who among us does not have a new appreciation of our pets?

Many people I know have put a renewed focus on fitness and personal well-being – but do they need a coach or fitness center to do it?

Alcohol use is up – but so is reading.

Who would have expected a huge increase in interest in gardening, baking and crafts like sewing?

Or a revival of interest in poetry?

We’ve been driving less, but those who drive seem to be driving faster (and louder) then before.

Who of us knew of Zoom a year ago?

But now Zoom meetings are geometrically more intrusive and mind-numbing than the more familiar Dilbert-like office meetings.

Will departmental meetings look anything like they did? Or have we realized that, whatever meetings were intended to accomplish, Zoom or not, there must be a different way to achieve their goals.

For much of the first half of 2020, I heard many conversations wrapped around the idea of “getting back to normal.”

I don’t hear those anymore.

Either people have given up on the idea of “normal” (quite possible), or, given a little perspective, what we considered “normal” just a year or so ago, does not seem so appealing or desirable as it once did.

In short, sometimes “good enough” is, in fact good enough. And sometimes it isn’t.

The trick, perhaps in every area of life, is to know when it is, and when it isn’t.

And when it matters.

In some situations, putting up with difficulties and facing challenges leads to success and recognition.

Other times, it is frustrating, possibly even destructive.

The principle then, in most cases, though not always possible is to pick your battles.

The question may not always be “will I win or lose?” in any given situation; a better question might be, “is this issue worth fighting over?”

Is this issue, contract or relationship even worth fighting for?

I think it would be fair to say that we, in our relationships, our mental health, our economy, our individual careers and our political processes have been going through an involuntary and near universal “stress test.”

Our core beliefs and premises have been shaken and upended, and most of the time, when we say we want to go back to “normal,” it is not because “normal” was so great, it’s because it was familiar.

We’ve been abruptly pushed out of, even evicted (for some of us, literally) from “normal.”

There is no “going back.”

About half of the world’s population is part of one of the major monotheistic world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

That means that we share a common creation story; Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden – and the ejection from Paradise.

Few of us would argue that our economy, our political climate or our global security was anything approaching “paradise” before 2020, but we seem to share an increasing, almost fantasy-like, nostalgia for that bucolic time before COVID.

But, like Adam and Eve in that near-universal creation story, our way is blocked, there is no going back, and the only way forward is through.

The rules, expectations and possibilities are new – and in flux.

What worked, or was acceptable, a generation ago, seems appalling or embarrassing to us now.

What seemed impossible to our parents seems typical, even mundane to us now.

Fortunes are made or lost within days, even nano-seconds. Wealth, once measured in dollars, is now in Yuan (Chinese), rubles or cyber-currencies (here’s a listing of available cyber-currencies: https://coinmarketcap.com/all/views/all/).

In a world where billions can be lost in just a few days, success, even survival, has a very different definition, context and meaning than it did just a year or two ago.

Business and social frameworks and intentions are taking on new forms. Here’s just one example of networking, crowd-sourcing and local/global, individual/universal approaches to the emerging business/marketing/sharing economy: http://www.catalystcompanies.co/.

The jargon and landscape might be intimidating at first, but hang on for the ride in the new collaborative, on-demand economy, where people share and rent resources from the “crowd,” rather than buying products and services from brands.

The “old” economy, based on buying or owning, is giving way to a shared/ collaborative/on-demand economy where “ownership” is barely relevant.

Love it or hate it, we are in an Uber-economy.

In Japan for example, a bell-weather economy if there ever was one, you can “rent” a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, even a sister, or an entire family.

Emerging autonomous technologies, from “smart” appliances to vehicles, will, for better or worse, dominate our lives – even our pulse and heartbeats will be at the mercy of AI and robotics.

Will Stephen King be right? Will our machines wreak revenge on us? Or will we maintain a semblance of control over our own destinies?

These will be the questions of the future.

All we know for certain, is that the way “back” to the familiar, the garden, to paradise, is blocked and there is no going back.

The future is ours to make, and we, like every culture and generation, for better or worse, will remake the world, to some degree at least, in our own image.

And the next generation will remake it in theirs….