The greatest reward for pandemic risk

Assessing risk is hard anytime, but, in a pandemic, it’s even harder. But it’s paramount.

People should think “The coronavirus kills and is unpredictable, so I should wear a mask, especially indoors, and socially distance so I don’t transmit or get infected and become a transmitter.” But many don’t.

Especially in the US.

People aren’t socially distancing. People aren’t wearing masks.

And I think it has a lot to do with how people assess risk. Yes, it’s not the only reason the virus is rampant in our country. Sure, people are selfish. And true, people think the pandemic is a hoax. But there’s also this critical mental exercise that so many of us fail to practice that often harms us. We don’t think realistically about the downside of our actions.

And, to be honest, that’s the wonderful thing about Americans: we are optimists. We attempt the impossible because we refuse to see the impossibilities. That’s what makes us scrappy, entrepreneurial, rugged, dogged, where many of us have an I-can’t-let-some-stupid-virus-stop-me-from-living-my-best-life mindset. That’s an attribute—in a pre-pandemic world.

My mother. I love her. She’s an octogenarian. She’s old. And last week she went to a store with my sister and picked up legos for my first born son. And I scolded her for it. Because, to me, going to the store with my sister to pick up legos for my son isn’t worth the risk of putting herself in danger of getting a virus that would likely kill her. But she scoffed at me.

The virus turns optimism against us. It seizes that which is usually a strength in a non-pandemic world and turns it into, not only a weakness, but a weapon. See, my mother’s ventures into a toy store can lead to her getting herself, or me, or my son, or others, sick.

Often we don’t even know what the stakes are. We’re completely unaware. That’s especially true now. I think it’s because the virus can’t be seen and anyone who’s sick is behind hospital walls and you can’t really see what is going on with them. All we have are some stories people tell us in the media or social media. And we lack the imagination and awareness (maybe even the humility) to apply those horrific accounts to ourselves.

Till it’s too late.

The pandemic is a long view problem. Short term desires and actions only threaten and kill more people. There are no quick fixes. It needs to be handled with creating new habits, patterns, thinking that affect our lives. But too many refuse to think that way, and, instead, they do what they want when they want because that’s what they’ve always done.

But the pandemic isn’t about losing money or failure or losing a job or getting broken up with—no. It’s about death. It’s about forfeiting your life, or, worse, your actions costing the lives of your loved ones. When we are cavalier and careless, trying to live on as if the pandemic didn’t exist, we aren’t endangering just ourselves; we are risking the lives of everyone we love, too.

See, the world has changed; and in order to survive, even thrive in it, we must also change. We must adapt. What once was safe is now dangerous, no matter how optimistic we feel. And with each interaction with the physical world, we must measure it against this new reality.

And if you do, there is reward.

It’s life.


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