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What Have We Learned?

When confronted with a difficult situation for which there was no immediate solution, my mother used to say to us, “Let’s make an adventure out of this.” That sage saying has been passed down and repeated over the years in our family until it has become legendary.

This covid-19 pandemic and our reaction to it has created one of those difficult situations. Many of us have worked hard to make an adventure of this, but it hasn’t been easy. 

The Spanish flu epidemic, which occurred more than 100 years ago, is the closest comparison to the current crisis. The major difference is that there were no jet planes then to spread the disease rapidly around the world, creating almost instantaneous fear. And in 1918, the view of the United States government was that it was a local matter. A huge number of people died from the Spanish flu, and that is what we’re trying to prevent now.

For the past few months, we have been involved in one of the most wrenching and all-encompassing social experiments that the U.S., as well as the rest of the world, has ever voluntarily undertaken: quarantine. There will be numerous books and papers written about this historic attempt to protect ourselves. Hopefully, future scholarly analysis will show that we did learn something from these sacrifices.
Here are a few things we’ve learned already:

  1. When experts and government officials feared that our hospital system might be overwhelmed almost immediately with infected covid-19 patients, we willingly agreed to sequester ourselves in our homes, close our businesses and eliminate normal human activity to “flatten the curve” in order to reduce the potential crisis. We were amazingly successful at that. However, no expert promised that such flattening would actually reduce the ultimate number of cases, and few of us realized then how difficult it would be to restore our lives to normal after that goal was achieved.
  2. We learned to make and then wear masks to cover our faces to reduce the spread of this coronavirus. What we didn’t learn until later was that most of these masks do little to protect us, although they do help protect those around us. Unfortunately, some self-centered individuals never figured this out and have pranced around proudly without masks, revealing their general lack of concern for others. But now, at least, most of us wash our hands more often, just as our parents told us to do.
  3. While many positive deeds by normal people have been noted, a crisis like this one also brings out the evil in marginal individuals. Cheaters, scalpers, hackers and con artists see this as their moment to act. 
    Early in the shutdown, a hacker scrambled my business files and then prevented me from installing backups. No computer shops were open, but I finally found a local “expert” to help. Bottom line: that con artist recovered the files, destroying my computer in the process, and then insisted on being paid with one hundred dollar bills to get the files back—an expensive and unhappy experience.

But it has been an adventure, and we have learned a few things from this, haven’t we?

Jack Goodhue, management coach, may be contacted at

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