Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > April 2020

Sometimes adversity brings opportunity.

As I am writing this, the world is in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis. People around the world are taking actions to prevent the spread of the Covid virus, to prevent a repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic in which millions of people died. Those who can work from home are doing so, using a computer at home to access work files and communicate via e-mail or web conferencing. Businesses that must offer in-person services, such as grocery stores, are following rules of "social distancing" (keep people at least 2 meters apart) and are repeatedly sanitizing surfaces such as grocery cart handles and cashier areas. Schools and many businesses are closed. Governments are taking actions to provide financial support to those who have lost their jobs.

Apart from the risk of illness and financial loss, this situation also affects peoples' mental health. There are two significant ways in which people are affected:

  1. Fear: Every time one watches the news, the top story shows increasing numbers of people infected around the world, some of whom die.
  2. Impact on social life: People may lose personal interaction with many of their friends and co-workers. Within families, the opposite occurs because they are home together all the time, so annoyances or conflicts that may arise between family members have no periods of escape or relief.

This is truly a condition of adversity. So where can be the opportunity?

The first opportunity is for the nations of the world to learn from this experience, in order to be better prepared for the next pandemic, and to take action faster.

Some parts of the world were hit by the pandemic later than others, and because of what they saw happening elsewhere, they were able to take action sooner. In my own home province in the middle of the Canadian prairies, all schools and most businesses were closed when there were still only 2 confirmed cases of Covid virus discovered in the province. The spread has since increased, but not as quickly as it might have otherwise.

Sometimes fear is a good thing. Without awareness leading to fear, the public would not support such drastic action with so few cases discovered. Politicians would not introduce effective measures, and people would not comply with them. What has been a disaster in some nations, serves as a warning to others. When effective action is taken, the fear is reduced and hope is enhanced.

The second opportunity is for individuals to use their new circumstances to do some things in their lives that they didn't have time for before, or never thought to try.

Those who have lost their job or who are out of school, now have a lot of free time. Those working from home instead of an office, likewise have gained some time by not having to travel to and from the office. This is something to take advantage of! Here's some ideas:

To do by yourself:

To do together, if you have family living with you:

To do with your friends, notwithstanding that you are apart:

Lastly, I present a third opportunity, which is to use this situation to spread joy using exactly the same mathematical progression that the virus uses to spread misery.

Covid spread requires person-to-person contact. In order to spread, each person must infect more than one other person. Each person either gets well or dies, but if he has spread it to only one other person before that, then the number of sick people will not increase. If on average the spread rate is less than one person, the virus will gradually disappear. If it is more than one, it will gradually disseminate across the population.

Instead of spreading a virus, consider that spreading joy works the same way. Tell a joke to 1 person; if they tell it to more than one, and the others to likewise, it disseminates like a virus. Likewise with spreading any kind of joy. You don't need to change the world single-handedly.

Not only that, but unlike a virus, the spreading of joy is not limited to physical contact. You can spread joy to everyone you communicate with.

I mentioned already that for families together all day long, it can be tough sometimes if they get on each others nerves. But also togetherness can be an opportunity to understand each other better, and to use that understanding to be a positive influence.

Pretend that your family living with you are like the characters in a video game. In the game, you can view the status of each person: typically including his (or her) energy, health level, wealth, etc. For your live game, use instead the components of happiness as the status indicators. For each of the motivators comprising happiness, seek to put each person at the green (satisfied) end, and out of the red (misery). Watch for clues of middle conditions of blue (not so happy) or yellow (mild burden or onset of warning).

People spreading joy to each other together can magnify their joy to occasionally go beyond the green status into the double-green category (great joy or ecstasy). That's because people have a natural empathy that adds perceived joy in others to their own joy.

That sounds great but like many worthwhile things, it's not easy. It requires one to be a motivational detective, and to develop emotional intelligence. But it's never to late to get better at it, so long as you are alive.

Which brings me back to one more point about fear. Though it makes sense to take prudent action to reduce risk, take care to not let fear become excessive. There's one phrase I like that encapsulates that idea: "Live while you are alive." Nobody lives forever, so enjoy it while it lasts, spread joy to others, and pass on a pleasant legacy to the next generation.

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