Coronavirus: Reflections and Suggestions on How to Take Personal Responsibility
After tracking COVID-19 since early February and sifting through dozens of medical and scientific, as well as public health reports and docs and, of course as so many of you, reading plenty of media, and chatting with friends and neighbors, here some reflections and suggestions:
To start – so much of what is conveyed in the media, social and otherwise, falls into one or another version of fear activation — this could be a flight reaction (avoidant, detached, downplaying), a fight reaction (panic, hoard, fret), or freeze (don’t know what to do, feel stuck and powerless). This is understandable. And each person we encounter, whatever their reaction may be, deserves to be met with respect and care (including ourselves!).
At the same time, I’d like to suggest a response that seeks to come from an educated, compassionate, courageous, and proactive stance. For this we need to hold multiple perspectives and integrate multiple feelings.
BE PRESENT WITH WHAT IS. We need to remember that doing everything possible to stay or return to a regulated, calm, present state is of the utmost importance. Otherwise we turn into “chickens with no heads”. When we notice someone in distress, we can lend them our regulated nervous system, and vice versa. As Dan Rather writes, his father would come into his room “to stand over me, lovingly but firmly. ‘Steady, Danny,’ he would say. ‘Steady.’ The words were clear and deliberate, and they were soothing… I can still hear the word in my dad’s voice. And I hear it once more today.” Telling someone not to be fearful doesn’t work. Offer empathy, and a listening ear. Allow their sharing to touch that in you which also knows fear. Feel it. Let it move through and be acknowledged rather than be stifled. Be with, rather than against. And then look for creative ways forward, even just the smallest step or gesture.
PAY ATTENTION. We also need to pay attention to what is going on around the world and not stick our heads in the sand, or feel the false protection of subtle arrogance (it won’t happen here). And for this we need to wrap our heads around exponential growth – something that doesn’t feel intuitive to many of us. There were only 21 cases in Italy on Feb. 21, now there are over 15000, as of March 12. Exponential growth is real and yet we fool ourselves into thinking it can’t / won’t happen here. We can’t fathom the numbers rising so fast, yet they do, at first invisibly. In Switzerland the meme shared by government to help folks get the exponential idea is “If you infect 1 person, you infect 1000”. Looking ahead at how other countries and communities are responding should give us ample insight on how to respond and how not to. I really wish we as a collective were more proactive instead of reactive when it comes to this and, while appreciating the efforts underway, am finding Canada’s response unsettlingly slow. Again: exponential growth is something we humans don’t intuitively “get”, but looking at how things are unfolding in other countries should be giving us a huge heads-up.Listen to the mathematicians! We have less excuse to be reactive than those first dealing with the spread, and every reason to be proactive.
STAY CURIOUS and HUMBLE. We need to keep learning, and being inquisitive, taking in information from many angles, not just the ones that affirm what we already know or want to know. Stay curious. Remain humble. I will leave the particulars (that are developing day by day) to the medical professionals and virologists. But I will say this much: this is a new virus and an unprecedented global unfolding that will affect supply chains, jobs, social norms and habits, and much more. We have more unanswered questions than answered ones. We don’t yet know if COVID-19 brings any long-term effects to our health. We also don’t have the full picture of how it will affect our incredibly intertwined and interdependent systems. So, if we don’t know, again, in my view, we have every reason to keep learning and adapting according to our best sense making. Lean in, rather than out.
IN THIS TOGETHER. We need to widen our circle of care and concern to include the most vulnerable — the elderly and immune-compromised, those with underlying conditions, the scared and overwhelmed — and have this care inform our daily choices. Who are we as a society? We create the answer to this question through all our choices. As my lovely friend, Carrie Klassen, writes:
“A serious illness outbreak may not seem like a big thing if
… you are not immunocompromised
… you don’t love someone who is immunocompromised
… you aren’t a frontline medical or emergency worker
… you have a job that allows you to work from home if you need to
… you have a job that isn’t affected by cancellations
… you have a job that pays you for sick days
… you can afford a couple extra weeks’ worth of groceries to limit your social exposure during an outbreak
… you have all the resources needed to cope well with quarantine (including a home to be quarantined to)
… you aren’t responsible for taking care of parents, children, or other dependants
… you can afford care for out-of-town parents who may have to self-quarantine
… you have affordable or free healthcare in a well-resourced system
… you have easy access to free or low-cost childcare if schools close
… you don’t rely on school nutrition programs to help feed your child
But there are many people in the world and in our neighbourhoods who don’t fit these categories. Who do you know who might be feeling vulnerable? What could you offer them that might help and reassure?”
Where can you offer practical help and compassion?
On this note, physical distancing is one of the most effective ways to help flatten the exponential curve, thereby not overwhelming our medical personnel and systems, and protecting the elderly and immune-compromised. This is a time to engage our civic responsibility, to avoid catching and spreading this virus as long as possible. Contain, stay home, settle, become still for a while. And then, act from Stillness.
And also, be aware of how you speak of this unfolding event and to whom. Be especially attentive to how you portray it to children and youth. Theirs is the world to explore and adventure forth into. Let us keep circles of sanity, laughter and decency alive as much as possible. Let us listen for what they are ready to hear and can integrate without falling into added anxiety and despair. In the words of my grandfather: “May all that you share be true, but not all that is true needs to be shared”. Speak from a stance of listening and calm.
CREATE rather than REACT. I find that taking in too much information without acting on it can overwhelm our systems and shut us down. We need to stay attentive to balancing the intake of info, the consumption of news, with being creative, with engaging in ways forward. This could be as simple as every time you hear some worrisome news, you light a candle and send light and love to the world, to the most vulnerable, to the decision makers and leaders.
Or you plant your garden and plant extra for your neighbours.
Or go buy a 14-day minimum supply of non-perishable food, and also some extra for a friend.
Or you encourage your loved ones to get the medications they rely on for a few months in advance.
Or reach out to a friend or neighbour to see how they are doing – perhaps picking up the phone for a chat will come back into fashion?
Or you make yourself and your loved ones a health plan (I have included a link on immunity strengthening in case it inspires/informs you).
Or you reach out to your school district, your gym, your city council to find out how they are handling the situation and encourage them to take extra measures (examples in link below).
Or you brainstorm with your business colleagues how you can navigate the next while with the least amount of distress, with humor, intelligence and creative solutions.
And you don’t forget to live! – to breath, to dance, to play, to make music, to dream, to sleep, to be good to yourself and your fellow humans. If we consume more than we create, we become overburdened and less effective. So remember: for every bit of consumed input, match it with creative output.
TAKE CARE OF Y-OUR HEALTH. In addition to all the recommended hygiene and containment strategies (handwashing, not touching face, etc.): Eat well (no sugar!). Rest and sleep. Move your body. Enjoy fresh air. Calm your nerves. Breath. Be stubbornly glad. Pray, mediate, engage your spiritual practice. And take your immune-strengthening supplements. To each their own favorite supplements and practices. Do whatever works for you. For some great suggestions, see link below on immunity strengthening. And keep learning from trusted sources. If you buy supplements and can afford some extra, get some for the friend or neighbor who may need them.
TO CLOSE, A FEW LINKS YOU MAY FIND USEFUL AND INFORMATIVE (I will keep updating these):
** On exponential growth – trying to get our heads around what that actually means >>
** An in-depth overview by Julie McMurry >>
** Civic responsibility to help flatten the curve >>
** What social distancing actually means by Dr Ariadne Labs >>
** A case for being proactive rather than reactive >>
** An example of proactive response, Taiwan >>
** Examples of email letters I wrote to local city council, school district/highschool, gym, and shared clinic space I work in, in case you want to borrow any of them:
- local city council >>
- school district/highschool >>
- gym >>
- shared clinic space/health practitioners >>
** Immunity strengthening: Immunity Deep Dive – 5 parts – biochemist Stephen Cherniske >>
** Recommendations for individual prevention and containment from pathologist Dr James Robb >>
** Suggestions on how to speak to your children about the coronavirus – Dr. Laura Markham >>
A POEM. Because closing with a bunch of links isn’t the same as ending with a poem, here a beauty in the midst of the turbulence:
Pandemic –by Lynn Ungar (March 11, 2020)
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.