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A Spiritual Vaccine for 5781: Act, Engage, Trust, Hope

A pandemic that has wrecked untold suffering and rapid, unprecedented loss of life, broken political systems, suspicion of the other, social isolation, and despair: that summarizes the mood of many since March. We’ve had to shut ourselves in and shut our loved ones out for fear of infection. A Zoom seder was a novelty, but the thought of Rosh ha-Shanah online makes us nostalgic for lengthy tefilot. Even if we’re able to daven at socially safe services, the sight of a Shofar covered with a KN95 mask will be unsettling. How can we maintain our faith until researchers develop a safe, effective vaccine? Here are four practices rooted in Rabbinic texts that I’ve adopted in preparation for the yamim noraim and the days that follow:

Act: Speak Little and Do Much/ אֱמֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה (Pirkei Avot 1:15)

Very few statues have been dedicated to critics; it’s the creators, those who act and lead the way to change, who are honored. The warning, “If you see something, say something applies to public safety situations. But we’ve generalized this advice and often reflexively post our annoyance with a person or issue without thought to the aftermath. To build immunity against making gratuitous comments, I will criticize a bothersome situation only when I can work to remedy it, alone or working with others.

Engage: Don’t Separate Yourself from the Community/ הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר

(Pirkei Avot 2:4)

I’ve used creative license to incorporate this value into my life as it’s a challenge for someone with autoimmune or certain other medical conditions, and those whose age puts them at greater risks for COVID-19 complications. My social bubble is small, but I’m engaging with the community as a Biden-Harris “call-crew” volunteer. Last year, I thought that I would be knocking on doors in my neighboring swing state, Wisconsin. Instead, the campaign’s sophisticated system is my key to voters’ homes. I’m one of a motivated multitude of callers who don’t want to be bystanders to the 2020 election results. This campaign’s outcome will be consequential for America, the American Jewish community, and the State of Israel. By engaging in some political action, I feel like I’m inoculating myself against political apathy.

Trust: Judge all people favorably/ דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת (Pirkei Avot 1:6)

The ancient sages who spoke these words must have been peering 2,000 years into our contemporary culture. Does it feel like people increasingly give others the “detriment of the doubt” and don’t extend the “benefit of the doubt” to them? You might believe so if you remember when disagreements were fruitful and when leaders viewed a compromise as noble. You can’t compromise with people who are anti-Semitic and racist or support hostile views on gender and sexual orientation. We should challenge statements that diminish the innate Divine worth of another person. But learning how to have a respectful disagreement on a significant issue is a skill that we need to reacquire. Divergent viewpoints help clarify our thinking. We may learn that “the other side” has some ideas that are not so crazy, and the other side may realize that we’re also not insane. We may find areas of agreement that are the basis for joint action. To build my immunity against being narrow-minded, I’m doubling down on my commitment to trust that I can learn more about others whose ideas differ from mine, provided that they do not disrespect the godliness that everyone shares equally.

Hope: Did you hope intensely for salvation/ צָפִיתָ לִישׁוּעָה (BT Shabbat 31a) (Heschel’s translation)

Hoping for a better world does not mean waiting for it to emerge. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “To wait is to stay in readiness, to live a life of expectation” (Israel: An Echo of Eternity, p.96). A continuous strand that runs through Jewish history in tragic and joyful times is living life in a state of active, anticipatory hope. In practice, that means attempting to maintain spiritual and religious practices even when our hearts make carrying those routines heavy. It can also mean performing work or volunteering for causes that won’t bear fruit until decades from now and investing more in what is most important: relationships with family, friends, and community. In 5781, I’m committing to finishing a first draft of a book with my friend and colleague, Rabbi Jeffrey Schein, tentatively titled, L’Dor va-Dor in a Digital Age: Reimagining a Jewish Intergenerational Community.

Life has taught me the meaning of faith or emunah: with God’s help and the help of family and friends, we get through the worst difficulties, even when a crisis envelopes us in a thick fog confusion. Emunah doesn’t shield us from pain, but it makes it more bearable. I’ve also learned not to judge people for what they can and cannot bear. No one voluntarily chooses to live with anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and fear as constants in their lives. We’re doing the best we can in what often feels like a Hollywood apocalyptic movie, but this is life now. I hope that you’ll share your ideas on maintaining your spiritual health in the year ahead.

 

Cross-posted to the Times of Israel blog.

 

Urgent COVID-19 Takeaway: Replace Just-In-Time Conversations with Ahead-of-Time Conversations

 

In my recent book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, I described the reluctance of Millennials to speak with their Boomer parents about life transitions like downsizing dwellings, illness, and death. Unsurprisingly, Millennials were as eager to talk about these issues as their Boomer parents were to listen! Millennials assumed their parents had left written plans about emergency medical situations, and Boomer parents acted as if they wouldn’t age despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

 

But COVID-19 makes having conversations about illness, hospitalizations, and death ahead of when they might happen more urgent. If older adults contract COVID-19, they are at higher risk for complications and hospitalizations. While many younger people will not be symptomatic or will have milder symptoms, some will still need to plan for help when they feel sick and weak for an extended time.

 

Well before COVID-19, parents and children tacitly agreed to avoid discussions about transitions involving work, health, and finances until some upheaval triggered a discussion. They treated these conversations like a manufacturing process that Toyota pioneered to improve productivity called “just-in-time.” “Just-in-time” meant making “only what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed.”

 

But people aren’t auto parts and waiting to have “just-in-time” conversations about sensitive issues is a mistake. These conversations are delicate and emotional. They require practice. Ideally, they work best when family members have had conversations about their values and what matters most to them at each stage of life. Issues about change and loss flow more smoothly when family members regularly speak about what they value.

 

So what can you do? Replace “just-in-time” conversations with “ahead-of-time” conversations. Become literate with legal and financial tools that enable family discussions about medical and legal choices. If parents and children have strained relationships, vet a few neutral third-party experts like therapists, mediators, and attorneys who can help guide difficult discussions (suggestion: do not use other family members to facilitate these conversations). In my book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, you’ll also find a guide to help navigate conversations about health care and other significant among grandparents, parents, and older adult children. It’s intimidating at first to have these conversations. But you’ll often find that family members have been thinking about them already and are grateful to share them finally.

 

 

 

 

The Maximizer, The Catastrophizer, and the Pragmatizer: Post-Pandemic Personalities of Gen Zers and Millennials*

In my last blog, I posted my initial analysis of a survey that I administered to over 200 Gen Zers and Millennials on how COVID-19 is reshaping their personal and professional priorities and their views on the future. In this post, I introduce you to three post-pandemic “personalities” of Gen Zers and Millennials: The Maximizer, The Catastrophizer, and the Pragmatizer. I developed these personalities from over 600 insights that they shared about themselves, their families, and their friends. I lightly edited their responses for clarity, but did not change their substance. The members of these generations will be our leaders in business, government, in the nonprofit sector before we know it. As you read about them, ask yourself: “How can I support their healthy impulses about personal and professional growth and ease their feelings of hopelessness?” I urge you to listen to their voices, and then to connect more deeply with at least one Millennial or Gen Zer. Find a way to show them that you are listening to them.

 

The Maximizer: I’ll be Better because of the Pandemic

I’m more capable of doing things than I thought I was, and I am more resilient than I give myself credit for. I’m not lazy; I was just extremely overwhelmed by work and school, which left me unable to do anything productive once I got home. Now, I have hobbies and interests and keep my room clean. I am hardworking at a job, and even without structured tasks, I can be) productive. I get things done even when they feel impossible if I make time for self-care, no matter how busy I am.

 

 

I’ve been able to stay connected with friends through this pandemic. They’re the best! We text more often, and we FaceTime each other when we have time. We are so creative in how to stay in touch with each other! Friendship is such an important thing for me. A little effort can go a long way with friends, which I plan to continue making after this pandemic. I value my friends and family so much more now. I’m incredibly grateful for my parents and brothers. My sister and I are more different than I thought, but we also get along better than I thought, and I’ve gotten closer to my brother.

I realized I don’t know if I’m as suited to live abroad and away from my family as I thought I was.

I have the tools and knowledge to survive a zombie apocalypse. I got a job at a grocery delivery app which wouldn’t have happened without the crisis. So I have a weird dichotomy of feeling more optimistic about my future even though I’m less optimistic for my generation, my family, and my friends’ futures. I’m going to do pretty well in life despite what everyone else said. I do know this: when the economy crashes, which appears inevitable, that will be the time to strike on the stock market because no matter how long it takes, America has always bounced back. I will bet on America USUS! I want to be on the frontlines of creating the world of tomorrow.

 

The Catastrophizer: It Won’t Ever Get Better

I used to think I would never be the type of person to get depressed, that I would always be motivated to keep myself busy and productive, but I’m not. I’m also not as resourceful as I thought, and I’m not safe either. I can self-isolate rather well, but that tends to make me indulge in vices more to pass the time. Structure is hard to maintain when no one is watching. I need to be distracted at all times, or else I’m bombarded with negative thoughts.

I can’t learn online on my own because I have a really short attention span. I spend too much time on the phone, I eat when I’m bored, and I am very lazy. I lack self-motivation and passion, and I have no real drive, life goals, or aspirations. I never realized how much I relied on the physical separation of my work and home life for my mental health. I need to fix my sleep schedule. I am afraid of what I can’t see. I have insane anxiety, I’m sad, and I’ve been depressed for ages.

I hate living in this house! My family is easier to deal with when I can hang up on them. My dad is childish, so I have to be the grownup in the relationship, my mom is crazy – she thinks that the COVID-19 pandemic is all a hoax – and my stepmom sucks. They’re extremely susceptible to fear tactics. I never want to live with my sister – ever – and I don’t want a relationship with my brother. It’s hard to be around family always when you have differing views and opinions, especially when you feel like they always belittle you. They make me feel bad, and they’re toxic and selfish. Selfishness does not change whether or not someone claims to love you. Their abuse doesn’t stop or get better; it just feels like it’s better when you’ve moved away. But how helpless we are when we need each other but can’t help!

I’m too good at social distancing. I like being out but do not like other people, yet not seeing people destroys my motivation. I depend heavily on the company of others to stay sane, but that group needs to be diversified to avoid killing my roommate. I never realized how many stupid people I interact with regularly. A lot of people I thought were generous and kind are holding a lot of secret biases. They’re not willing to converse and confront their bigotry. So I’ve lost many friends. They’re fake and needy anyway, so I barely see them. Most of them only liked me because we worked at the same place. After I got laid off, all that I heard were birds chirping. But I’m also a bad friend, and I’m boring. I am becoming reclusive. I like being alone.

I’ve had to drastically cut back on all political content because I no longer have healthy ways of dealing with the frustration, like talking to people or being social. I hate how the government functions and how the lightest brains seem to be the only ones that float to the top. I’m concerned about my species. We prove time and again how resilient we are, and now we’re proving how absolutely arrogant and stupid we are. What happened to us??? I never realized how unprepared I am to lose even a single paycheck, and young Americans won’t achieve anything without a full-blown revolution. I probably have anger issues. I am around more high-risk people for illness than I thought. I don’t care that old people are dying and I’m lowkey highkey ready to die.

 

The Pragmatizer: It Could Have Been Worse and it Might Get Better

I haven’t been as affected by this crisis as I thought I would be, though my stress levels have definitely been up. I had an enormous burst of creative energy and interaction with friends and family for the first month or so of the crisis, but that’s started to die out in the last couple of weeks.

I have anxiety but resiliency, and it’s fine to rely on medication for my mental health. I also need to find more hobbies and focus on relationships to feel good.

My worst days happen when I have unrealistically high expectations but having structure in my day helps. I struggle with time management when I am unable to change my location, and I need a routine to be successful rather than playing each day by ear. I like in-person classes much better than online classes. Self-discipline to do schoolwork is much more difficult than I imagined while living at home.

I can be an introvert and enjoy solitude, but I am much more socially dependent than I thought. Not being around people and being cooped up in the house has affected me. I need daily social interaction with my coworkers more than I thought I did, and I’ve learned how important face-to-face connections are with my friends instead of strictly having a friendship over a cellphone. Family is nice in small doses. They may be annoying as f***, but I have to appreciate them for who they are. I see (interactions with family) as character development. I know that I should spend more time with my family when this is all over.

I am not financially secure as I thought, but I could not do much more about it than I already wasn’t doing. I don’t need to go out, eat out, drink as much as I did to have a fun-filled life. If working from home will become a more popular option in the future, I will need to be more disciplined.

 

Some significant insights that I’ve learned during the pandemic are:

  • Loneliness is a mindset.
  • Feeling like you “do nothing” is very different from not being able to do anything.
  • We need each other so much.
  • It’s impossible to prepare for everything.
  • I don’t need to be busy all of the time.

It’s impossible to prepare for everything. Whether I like it or not, pandemics and events will happen, but I know I can wait one out. It’s important to breathe, “just be,” and trust the outcome.

My life will still go at its own pace.

 *I administered this survey before the wave of national protests for racial justice triggered by the killing of George Floyd.

 

 

How COVID-19 is Changing the Lives of Gen Zers and Millennials: Initial Responses

I recently administered a brief survey of how COVID-19 is changing the lives of Millennials and Gen Zers. About 150 Gen Zers and 50 Millennials responded to questions on their optimism in the future, their priorities, and their use of technology since the pandemic closed down their lives. Here is a report of my initial findings, with an additional report to follow. Hearing their voices can help us consider how to apply their insights at home or in the workplace.

 

millenials and covid

 

Learning Online

How has Gen Z been navigating the move from a hybrid of online and in-person classes to an exclusively online learning experience? Some respondents said, “I cannot thrive using online learning.” However, many more answered like the respondent who said, “I thought it would be more difficult to take all of my classes online….I’ve already been taking half of them online…. Still …I’m losing some of that experience that you can only get in person. I’m really upset that I won’t be able to march down the aisle….lucky that I can graduate from college…I’m going to have to use my degree even more creatively (because of COVID-19).” Overall, they appear to be managing with online learning for now, are painfully aware that only taking online classes is an incomplete college experience, and they are concerned that there may be a mismatch between their college major and the job market.

 

Takeaways:

Career counselors should help younger generations think more imaginatively about how to adapt their education to new jobs that are being created because of COVID-19. Industries as diverse as health and wellness, restaurants and food service, and entertainment have moved online. These industries, and almost all industries, will continue to have much stronger online footprints after our country fully reopens. This move to a robust digital presence will create new customer service and sales jobs, and add thousands of jobs in computer sciences. How can a newly minted B.A. in humanities use skills to fill these positions?

 

Living Online

Many people think that younger generations don’t need much in-person time with friends and manage well with online life. But many of these Millennials and Gen Zers discovered that living life exclusively online and physically detached from friends, students, and co-workers is highly problematic. It heightens already high levels of anxiety and depression and undercuts productivity. As one respondent said, “I used to think I would never be the type of person to get depressed, that I could and would always be motivated to keep myself busy and productive. Turns out I’m not safe either. The structure is hard to maintain when no one is watching.” Or, as other survey participants came to understand, “Not seeing people destroys my motivation.”

 

Takeaways:

As I wrote in my most recent book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, younger generations had epidemic rates of social isolation, anxiety, and depression before COVID-19. When these mental health issues appear in pre-teen years and are compounded over decades, individuals, families, and society will pay a massive social and economic toll. When we factor in the long-term emotional impact of COVID-19, without prevention and intervention, the costs are astronomical.

Many more employers will need to institute robust and effective mentoring programs, pairing older and resilient workers with younger, emotionally fragile employees. Employers will need to find better ways to help employees structure their workdays in virtual offices, for example, with more goal-oriented interactions instead of meaningless “check-ins.” Universities will also need to train more therapists who specialize in helping people become more resilient.

 

The Future

Unsurprisingly, about half of these Millennials and Gen Zers have a bleak outlook on their future. Their optimism in the future plunged faster than the stock market on a bad day. Compared with how they felt before COVID-19, over 55% of respondents were considerably less optimistic about their future and were nearly evenly divided on whether their generation will be more successful or less successful than their parents’ generation. Many Millennials will be repaying college debt for years to come, and the COVID-19 pandemic is making Millennials and Gen Zers feel financially insecure. As one respondent said, “(I realized) how unprepared I am to lose even a single paycheck.” Gen Zers also wonder if they will find work related to their college majors or, as one respondent pessimistically said, “…(will) probably wind up delivering packages or groceries for most of my life.”

Takeaways: Employers can help younger generations achieve greater financial security by providing workplace benefits that enable them to pay down college debt using pre-tax dollars. Also, employers, faith-based groups, other nonprofits, and family members can offer financial counseling for an extended period.

 

Conclusion

Outbreaks of HIV (1981-present), SARS (2002-3), H5N1 Bird Flu (2003-2007), H1N1 Swine Flu (2009-10), MERS (2012-present), Ebola (2013-16), Zika Virus (2015-16) are pandemic trend data. They enable us to predict with a high degree of confidence that new epidemics will happen. This realization can make us anxious and fearful, or it can motivate us to make investments in younger generations so that they can imagine an opportunity-filled future.

 

America’s War Against Older People

You’ve heard of America’s “war on poverty” and “war on drugs,” but now some in government are waging war against older people, namely anyone who is age 60 and up. Politicians and citizens have divided into two factions on the issue of managing COVID-19. One camp emphasizes the cost of closing businesses, the other, the value of life. These two positions are irreconcilable because they are rooted in different values, similar to the values wars that “Pro-lifers” and “Pro-choicers continue to wage on the abortion issue 47 years after Roe vs. Wade. If we want to mitigate the likelihood of another wedge issue that divides Americans, we need to develop an age-friendly option between this binary choice of “opening up” or “closing down” public life.

There are seven generations alive today, an unprecedented number in human history. In many Western societies, age-segregation is the norm, and America leads in being the West’s most age-segregated society. Although age-segregation is relatively new and historically abnormal, age-isolating living arrangements, like gated communities, independent living facilities, retirement villages, and apartments that cater to Millennials, are typical in the United States. In the workplace, age discrimination beginning at about age 50 years was a significant issue pre-COVID-19. Older generations often do not value the skills and agility of younger workers, and younger generations are often oblivious to the critical experience of those with decades of experience.

 

 

This dynamic is the breeding ground for workplace discrimination, and it’s less costly for companies to swap out older employees for younger ones anyway. As older people are at a higher risk for COVID-19 complications, age discrimination in the workplace will likely worsen unless we use the pandemic to help us value people of all ages equally.

In my recent bookConnecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, I interviewed thirty Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials who reported that they do not have a close friend who is younger or older than they are. That didn’t surprise me; it just saddened me because of the mutual satisfaction that people could experience if they had even one friend from other generations.

We’re now seeing the consequences of the lack of intergenerational connections: a culture war over COVID-19. People who argue for the reopening of public life are correct in highlighting the damaging effects of a shuttered economy, time lost educating children, and a growing mental health crisis caused by physical distancing. On the other side of the debate, we can prevent thousands more from dying and mitigate the number of people who will become ill and have complications if we don’t reopen public life haphazardly.

Each side can’t see past its worldview. Those who prioritize the economic cost of the virus inadvertently devalue human life, and those who prioritize the value of human life unintentionally underestimate the consequences of closure. That is why I distrust how both factions use the phrase, “protecting our seniors.”

A caring definition of “protecting our seniors” means making it possible for those who are over age 60 to contribute their wisdom and experience to society while protecting them from the ravages of COVID-19. This version of “protecting our seniors” requires workplaces and communities to reconfigure physical spaces for seniors so that they would be at a much lower risk for infection, and the Federal and state governments to systematically test, trace, and track infected people.

People in this camp take a long view of the Coronavirus and understand that even after we’ve mitigated its lethal effects, there will be new pandemics. Outbreaks of HIV (1981-present), SARS (2002-3), H5N1 Bird Flu (2003-2007), H1N1 Swine Flu (2009-10), MERS (2012-present), Ebola (2013-16), Zika Virus (2015-16) are pandemic trend data. They enable us to predict with a high degree of confidence that new epidemics will happen. The changes that we make because of COVID-19 now will also better prepare us for the future.

A sinister meaning of “protecting our seniors” means imprisoning people who are older in their homes, with periodic furloughs outside for good behavior. Policymakers who think like this don’t want to make painful economic and social adjustments so that people of all ages are equally valued. They’re either waiting for a vaccine, or for enough older people to be infected or die until we reach herd immunity. How else is it possible to explain at this late date the inability to do extensive testing and an unwillingness to make mask-wearing mandatory when in public? And how else can we explain the cruel indifference toward older adults in nursing homes whose death count we will probably never know?

A third option is to adopt an age-friendly approach in which all generations are invested in each other’s success and are willing to share in adjusting their way of life. Seniors would have to compromise some of their freedoms and voluntarily shelter in place when the virus surges and conduct business at inconvenient off-peak hours. Workplaces would have to invest in making their factories and offices safe for older workers by reducing the number of employees by staggering hours and providing training, equipment, and incentives for older employees to work from home. Young and old would make shared sacrifices in return for our collective emotional and financial welfare.

Don’t expect politicians of either party to rally us together during this crisis. Those days disappeared with President Bush and 9/11. But it doesn’t take an active Congress or presidential leadership to launch a grassroots movement for an age-friendly approach to living with COVID-19 and future pandemics so that politicians must respond. An “either/or” choice of “open life up” or “keep it closed” is a losing strategy with heavy financial, economic, educational, and emotional losses. But an age-friendly approach to community health will encourage all generations to be kind and responsible in the face of this and future pandemics.

 

 

COVID Comedy. Really?

COVID life sucks. There’s no polite way of naming the truth of this pandemic, so let’s say it plainly. My family members, friends, and my wife and I have been directly or indirectly sickened by the Coronavirus. But as with all heavy things in my life, I refuse only to feel sad because that makes me feel powerless. I also choose to find some irony and laughter in the ugliest of situations because that helps me feel lighter, optimistic, and creative. I’m sharing some humorous pandemic moments with the hope that it will make you momentarily smile, and with a favor that you share your lighter stories with me.

Item: I’m an avid listener of Audible books. When I recently searched for recommendations, Audible’s algorithm recommended The Plague, a novel by Albert Camus, published in 1947. The Plague chronicles the responses of politicians, doctors, and ordinary citizens to a fatal epidemic. They move from denial to acceptance, from voluntary to mandatory isolation, and from heroism in battling the plague to resignation of its devastating toll until it eventually vanishes. When I told a friend what I was reading, he shouted, “Why in the world are you reading that?” I explained that unlike the fake science coming from President L.C. (Lysol, Clorox) Trump at his Make Me Great Again press rallies, Camus offered honest insights into how a plague transforms us individually and collectively. But my friend had a point – ironic that I read this novel.

Item: I have apnea and often have difficulty falling asleep. Of course, even if you don’t have apnea, you’re unlikely to experience a restful night’s sleep. I started listening to a podcast called Sleep With Me, whose host can make the dullest clergyperson sound electrifying. It’s an edgy name for a podcast, but a droning host is an excellent remedy for a better-quality sleep.

 Item: I also started playing trumpet again. My trumpet teacher sent me a link to Andrea Guifreddi, a trumpeter whose golden tone can charm anyone into believing that a horn has a soft, warm sound. He has a series of practice videos on YouTube called, Play With Me that makes practice enjoyable. But it’s embarrassing to respond to people who ask how I’ve been spending my time during the pandemic. Try explaining, “By relaxing with Sleep With Me and Play With Me.”

 Item: I read that many Millennials have discovered the art of baking bread and that sales of dry yeast had surged. When my wife decided to bake bread two weeks ago, she searched for yeast on our local supermarket’s online site. When she told me that other unexpected yeast-related products appeared, I offered to search on Amazon. Oops – same results! But there’s good news: there are again countless options for buying dry yeast. And there’s more good news: if you order toilet paper today, there are some options that don’t result in searches that read, “currently unavailable and we don’t know when this item will be in stock” or “estimated delivery January 19, 2021.”

One of my children accuses me of spoiling levity by turning it into preachy moments. I plead guilty as charged, so here we go. There’s a Talmudic story about two brothers who are destined for a place in the eternal time-share or Heaven. A rabbi, curious to learn why, asked them what they did for a living. They said, “We are jesters, and we cheer up the depressed” (TB Ta’anit 22a). My friends tell me that my funnies are feeble and that the only time that I exhibit good humor is when I eat a brand of ice cream with that name. But if I made you smile for a moment, please pay it forward by sharing your COVID-19 comedy. We can all use a Spirit lift!

 

 

The Art of the Pandemic or the War Against COVID-19

The American people need to know we’re facing a different enemy than we have ever faced.

This enemy hides in shadows and has no regard for human life. This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people…but it won’t be able to run for cover forever.

— President George W. Bush, September 12, 2001, televised address

 

“I look at it (COVID-19), I view it as, in a sense, a wartime president. I mean, that’s what we’re fighting” – that’s what President Trump said on March 18. The president’s analogy was solid. Every U.S. citizen is imperiled, and our soldiers – healthcare professionals and all those who support them – are on the front lines. But if this is a war, why has Commander-in-Chief only invoked but minimally exercised the Defense Production Act to mobilize industries to counterattack?

 

The Defense Production Act could, for example:

  • Allow the government to order manufacturers to reprioritize contracts so that the production of surgical masks would take precedence over other paper products.
  • Allocate medical equipment, like ventilators, to where they are needed most instead of having states bid against each other for limited supplies.
  • Make guaranteed loans to expand the production of products to fight the virus.

war on covid19

There’s an unsettling parallel between the last time we declared war in 2001 and President Trump’s declaration of war against COVID-19. The government sent troops that lacked protective gear to the front lines and then did not ramp up production of the equipment that soldiers needed. Our elected leaders did not heed those in the military who warned that this could be a long war. An early surge in forces could have prevented many injuries and loss of life.

We can’t fault a sitting president or Congress for accumulated gaps and failure of oversight in our military. There were cracks in the military that had been exposed earlier and ignored. But, once a decision is made to move to a wartime footing, we expect our leaders to act with urgency, match existing resources to an embattled reality, and incentivize new capabilities to meet rising demands. And we expect them to be able to focus on the present and think a few steps ahead.

Comparisons with the “War Against Terror” should alarm us. President Trump is correct in highlighted the deficiencies in emergency health care that he inherited. But he is responsible and should be held accountable for actions that he could have taken earlier to mitigate the damage, and for inaction once the severity of the danger became clear.

Implementing a coordinated national strategy for fighting this war – and not just signing a declaration permitting the creation of a policy at a future date – is the most critical action that we need now. Now is not a time for the president to start writing The Art of the Pandemic. It’s time for the Federal government to build a supply chain that can at least beat the enemy back. Musing hopefully about the “pent-up demand” that will dramatically reverse the fall of our economy instead of helping our healthcare workers is not a future-oriented strategy for picking up the pieces once this war has abated.

Our presidents express horror when other governments commit atrocities against their citizens. How is withholding help different from inflicting casualties on the public? I know this is harsh. But those who don’t pull the levers of support that can lead to fewer losses, you are now on notice. Please send a message to President Trump, and your elected officials in Congress and the Senate, to act like we’re at war and not just talk about being at war.

 

 

What COVID-19 Can Heal within Us

“Paradoxically, social distancing is renewing our need for social connections.”

As American citizens, we’re unaccustomed to hearing phrases like “mobilizing a nation.” The last time that U.S. citizens mobilized was during World War II. The Roosevelt Administration rationed foods like meat, dairy, coffee, shortening, and oils. Also, it limited consumer purchases, including automobiles, tires, gasoline, fuel oil, coal, nylon, and shoes, so that our Armed Forces could use their raw materials. These were federally mandated and not recommended changes. Some of them, like food rations, ended with the successful conclusion of the war. Others, like desegregating the military and opening the workforce more broadly to women, became the tipping point for permanent, welcomed changes.

The Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953) didn’t demand a collective sacrifice, and the Vietnam War tore our country apart. When terrorists attacked the Twin Towers and Pentagon on 9/11, President Bush unified us with his empathetic call to grieve yet continue to live normally. That would deny terrorists of their coveted victory to curtail our freedoms.

Protection, Prevention of Coronavirus Covid-19

But for the first time in American history, President Bush dismissed the need for self-sacrifice that makes a hoped-for victory in war possible. Shortly after the 9/11 attack, a reporter asked President Bush, “Sir, how much of a sacrifice are ordinary Americans going to have to be expected to make in their daily lives, in their daily routines?” President Bush responded, “Our hope, of course, is that they make no sacrifice whatsoever.” We can appreciate his optimism but critique a lost opportunity to mobilize an entire nation for a multi-front war. As the U.S. Army is volunteer, a tiny fraction of individuals who fought the war, and their families, bore its painful personal costs. Our army shielded most Americans from the sacrifices that fighters and their families would make. Still, we can look back admiringly to the president’s call for national unity and be grateful for his efforts to elicit the best in ourselves.

Paradoxically, social distancing is renewing our need for social connections. COVID-19 gives us a choice to maintain the destructive political discourse that we’ve become accustomed to or regain our understanding of self-sacrifice as the path back to improving the lives of every citizen. Especially since 2004, Democrats and Republicans have equally eroded civility in politics and governing. Hostility across party lines is so bad that it is polluting our relationships. In the not too distant past, religion was a taboo topic when it came to relationships. Today, party affiliation can be the kiss of death for a potential relationship. Drawing on our collective experience of 9/11, and our individual experiences of unsolicited acts of generosity, every citizen can ease up on the pull of self-indulgence and tug harder on the reins of self-sacrifice. We can choose to turn the temporary medical need for social distancing to a permanent imperative for broader social connections.

There is no “silver lining” in the Coronavirus. It is wildly contagious and lethal, and we’re adapting to how to live through it. Illness, death, social isolation, and economic recession – some of these losses are permanent and irretrievable, and others will take years to overcome. If we believe it’s doomsday, we’re likely to reinforce our “Like Hell I’ll help you if you don’t think like me” attitude.

I’m more optimistic that we’ll choose the path of altruism and reciprocal kindness. We see the emergence of a global phenomenon called “caremongering.” Caremongering is the antidote to fearmongering or scaremongering. It means spreading concrete acts of kindness instead of meanness. According to BBC News, “The first ‘caremongering’ group was set up by Mita Hans with the help of Valentina Harper and others. Valentina explained the meaning behind the name. “Scaremongering is a big problem. We wanted to switch that around and get people to connect on a positive level, to connect with each other.” Caremongering can include organizing neighborhood sing-a-longs and concerts from apartment balconies, shopping or preparing meals (following CDC guidelines) for the elderly, leading an online family activity for parents and children, offering necessities like toilet paper and soap to those in need, and sharing acts of kindness to alleviate anxiety and potentially motivate others to act.

We will find ways to mitigate or cure this most recent infection. Social connections will enable us to navigate the pandemic and its social and economic aftermath. But will we be bold enough to let the COVID-19 virus be the catalyst to heal our relationships with others, and address other urgent domestic and global problems that need our attention?

 

The Real Costs of Fake News

What’s your biggest fear about the future? Is it superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, or superstorms caused by global warming, like Hurricane Sandy in 2012? If you believe that claims of global warming are hyperbole, perhaps your biggest fear is the elimination of entire high-paying industries like fracking and coal mining that environmentalists want to ban. Each of these fears flows from a singular problem: the inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. It’s clear today that many treat facts like fiction, and fiction like facts, and the greatest threat to our future is an unstoppable pandemic of misinformation.

fake news

I’m not exaggerating the threat of our inability to know fact from fiction. According to an Avaaz (a nonprofit that promotes global activism) study, The top 100 fake news stories on Facebook in 2019 were viewed over 150 million times, the top two being that Nancy Pelosi diverted Social Security money to fund the impeachment inquiry [and] that President Trump’s father was a member of the KKK. How many people who viewed those and other fake news stories believed them? With over 150 million views, you can bet it’s an astronomical number.

Social media propagates propaganda, and that’s a big problem for all of us. False health information gave birth to the “anti-vaxxer” movement. Before the November 2016 presidential election, a man walked into a pizzeria in Washington, DC, and fired several shots with an assault rifle because of a fake political news story. And fake judicial news about is undermining our trust in government. As Chief Justice John Roberts said in his 2019 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, “We should celebrate our strong and independent judiciary, a key source of national unity and stability. But we should also remember that justice is not inevitable. We should reflect on our duty to judge without fear or favor, deciding each matter with humility, integrity, and dispatch.”

Growing numbers of people are looking to social media for their news. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, 34% of U.S. adults said they preferred to get news online, compared with 28% in 2016. The most significant consequence of the fake news industry is that it undermines our trust in one another. In another Pew Research Study, Half [of the adult survey respondents] “…say they have avoided talking with someone because they thought that person would bring made-up news into the conversation.” As I wrote in my recent book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide, rampant generational stereotypes create intergenerational rifts, and the exponential growth of fake news furthers frays our intergenerational fabric.

Fake news has real social costs. It’s making us less prudent and more paranoid. In my next post, I’ll suggest steps that parents and grandparents, faith, civic and political leaders, and employers can take to start inoculating others in their orbits against the misinformation pandemic. In the meantime, check out sites like Common Sense Media to learn how to educate children to be responsible digital citizens.

 

 

Get S.M.A.R.T.: Changing One Word May Change Your Life

 

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is a useful tool for staying focused on tasks that you want to accomplish (and a “but” offering a qualification follows soon!). The more commonly accepted meaning of the acronyms for S.M.A.R.T. are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The beauty of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is in becoming unmistakably clear about your endpoint and laying the steps to make sure you arrive there. It’s hard to duck your accountability for not achieving a S.M.A.R.T goal, but easy to feel proud when you do.

hayim herring consulting goal settingHere is a personal illustration of the difference between a fuzzy and a S.M.A.R.T. goal:

· Fuzzy goal: “I want to blog more.”

· S.M.A.R.T. goal: “I will publish two blog posts each month, beginning 30 days from now.” This is a S.M.A.R.T. goal because it is:

Specific: my focus is on blogging, not other genres of writing.

Measurable: I can measure my effort: two blog posts each month.

Achievable: By planning in advance, I can reach my goal.

Relevant: Blogging more frequently increases my audience.

Time-bound: I must achieve my goal every 30 days.

With a little forethought, I’ve transformed my vague goal into a S.M.A.R.T. goal. I could misunderstand “blogging more,” but my S.M.A.R.T. goal is unequivocally clear. I know what I need to accomplish, when I need to achieve it, and I can allocate time each week to keep me on task.

Take a moment to think about a goal that’s nagging at you because you haven’t yet achieved it. Now, take a few minutes and turn it into a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals takes more time upfront, but returns much more energy. You’ll longer fret about procrastinating because you’ve created a realistic action plan to achieve your goal.

But… there’s a downside to setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. If you set S.M.A.R.T. goals, you’ll achieve much more than you otherwise could. But what happens if you achieve many S.M.A.R.T. goals and realize only later in life that they’re as significant as you had expected? The answer: change a word and change your life. Instead of the letter “S” in S.M.A.R.T. standing for “specific,” change the word to “significant.”

Let’s return to my example. Without getting too philosophical, I generally try to spend time on significant efforts. My books or blogs haven’t changed the world. But when people who have read my blogs tell me that a particular post influenced the way they think or behave, my writing is more personally significant. Will that individual move from an initial to a sustained change in action? Who knows?! But my significantly achievable goal in writing a blog post is to help someone see an issue from another vantage point.

By substituting the word “specific” for “significant” when writing a S.M.A.R.T. goal, I think about intention and purpose. What is my intention in having this goal, and will its significance potentially outlast the goal once I’ve achieved it? There are many external efforts designed to hijack our attention and achieve someone else’s purpose (for example, increasing a company’s bottom line or voting for a political candidate). Let’s face it, the Internet is a world wide web of distractions. By swapping out “specific” for “significant,” we untangle ourselves from these stealthy distractions and assert our ability to define and pursue efforts that are significant for ourselves.

 
 
 
 

©2020 Hayim Herring
 
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