Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Lessons of the Lockdown, A Year Into the Madness

After a year of being home with, um, not so much freedom insight, what have I learned about myself, my life, and the world?  

Most obviously, I don't need travel, but I sure as hell want to travel.  The lack of travel has forced me to get out of various ruts at home--going beyond the tried and true dinners, pushing me to bake more than chocolate chip cookies and apple pies.  To pick up new winter sports even if they are not the ones I really enjoy.  

I learned that I have both more and less discipline than I thought.  I have managed to exercise nearly every day, thus allowing me to do that aforementioned baking.  But my work focus ... not good.  I can't complain too much because I have friends who have it far worse, but this year felt like the first few months of the Trump Administration where I spent so much time just distracted by the shitshows and desperately tried to make sense of things.

As I used to work from home a couple of days a week since we moved to Canada, I was used to dinners where we had already exchanged the day's news, leading sometimes to a loss for conversation.  Now? Jeez, a year of it being just the two of us day after day, and with me finding talk about Trump being too much, yeah, my conversation skills have ebbed.

I have learned how thirsty I am for connection.  I have organized zooms with friends on a mostly regular basis plus my twice weekly family zooms to keep my isolated mother company.  Thanks to silly games that my sister brought to these games, I have learned much about my siblings and mother that I had not known before. 

I have learned that students both hate and need asynchronous courses (taped) as live courses can be both pretty good and awfully draining.  The online era is good for some students, bad for others, and a mix for profs.  There is definitely no pleasing everyone.  I would rather be in the classroom, but I also like not having to commute to work.  I miss the camaraderie in the hallways, I miss students dropping by for random chats, and I miss the change of pace that going to work involves.  The steady drumbeat of being at home does wear on me.  But again, I can't complain too much as the students are going through so much--I can feel the stress through the zoom connection.  

Pressure really does reveal character.  Someone said in a tweet months ago that times like these make givers give more and takers take more.  The way I have put it is that COVID does to people, societies, and governments what it does to the human body: it reveals pre-existing conditions.  We have politicians who are far weaker than I suspected, unable to stand up and insist on mask mandates, so focused on keeping bars and restaurants open that they haven't prioritized schools.  They close too slow and open too soon.  But there is variation--some are willing to spend to get through this.  Canada was better off for much of the first year as Trudeau was willing to spend to keep people at home while Trump was not.  

 This crisis has reminded us that federalism is both boon and bane.  It is great to have the units make policy when the center sucks, but when the units make bad policy, it is not so good.  In Canada, the feds are reluctant to step on the toes of provinces when it comes to health care.  Which is why testing/tracing and vax rollout are not doing too well in Ontario and Alberta and Quebec.  But the feds can spend money on people and firms, so they have done better on providing a safety net.  Not so many long lines at food banks up here.  In the US, Cuomo and Newsom looked good when compared to Trump, but with Trump gone, it is clear that these governors suck mightily.  With better, smarter folks running things from DC, now federalism gets in the way, as we see in Texas and Florida where their governors seem determined to get as many of their constituents killed or sick. 

We have way too many people who have no empathy at all--which meant that explaining that masks helped other people was a bad strategy for a significant hunk of the population.  On the other hand, as Mr. Rogers would say, watch the helpers.  We have seen so many people put themselves at risk, so many people who have reached out to others.  It is easy to focus on the anti-maskers and other destructive people, but they are a minority.  Most people have managed decently through very tough times.  

Still, I have learned that my old standby, confirmation bias, works great (yes, the irony is intentional).  Folks learn the lessons they want to learn.  There were abundant lessons to be learned from past pandemics, but those who didn't want to learn chose not to.  And as we go along, we keep seeing the same things--"oh hospitalizations are not going up yet (hey, it's a lagging indicator) so things are fine." again and again.  The science does create some uncertainty like can we get it from touching things, but over time we have gotten some clarity about this pandemic.  It hasn't always shaped our behavior. Restaurants practice pandemic theatre by wiping everything down repeatedly when the danger is in the air.  Motivated bias continues to kill.  

When this all started a year ago, I thought we would be quarantined for a few months.  I was wrong in two ways--obviously this has lasted far longer but also that in Canada and the US, we really didn't quarantine.  Not like the Europeans and others.  The next bit of uncertainties involve how many people will resist the vaccinations and how can we act once most of us are vaccinated. Will we shake hands?  Will we hug?  Can we fly without too much nervousness?  Can I cross the border to visit my family?  Can I get back?

It has been a brutal year, especially for older folks who essentially losing two of the last years of their lives living just to dodge the virus and not much more and especially for the young who are losing some of the funnest years of their lives, separated from friends and family.  I think I have it the easiest as I don't have to take care of any kids at home and definitely no home-schooling, my job has continued with no real threat to lose it, and I have someone to share the madness.  And yet it is definitely one of the hardest years of my life.  We have all lost people and have had friends and relatives who have suffered.  So, there is a greater need for empathy and sympathy than any other time in my life.  

The only way out, as they say, is through.  So, here's hoping that next year's anniversary is one with far more celebration and less anxiety and stress, and may we all be able to move about the cabin.

Be well.

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