Coronavirus, Uncertainty, and Reinventing Life

People hate uncertainty. It causes discomfort at the best of times. There are many potential dimensions to uncertainty, and the coronavirus has them all.

The source of the coronavirus is inconclusive, and of little interest at this stage. We know it is highly contagious for those of all ages, yet some carriers may be asymptomatic. To add insult to injury, even the various tests do not appear to be 100% accurate. It is invisible and can exist any time, any place, with varying intensities and consequences.

One way people deal with uncertainty is by ‘denial.’ The threat posed by a situation may be so severe, that people decide there is no threat in the first place. In the U.S., Israel, and many other countries the threat was addressed actively only after thousands were infected. Initially, we heard that the coronavirus is “No big deal” or “under control.”

The ‘denial’ stage went on for longer than I expected, as it was institutionalized by ‘leaders’ who could not cope. That was compounded by China’s withholding valuable information.

After being struck in the face by reality, ‘denial’ was replaced by ‘dilution.’ Uncertain factors become more ‘certain’, often based on fantasy alone. The ‘herd effect’ is a great example. Certain countries decided that they would carry on as usual, with the exception of the old and sick who would have to isolate themselves, until the majority of the people had been infected and recovered. Only problem here is the premise that coronavirus is a once in a lifetime event. It is too early for this premise to be supported.

There are white lies, black lies, and statistics. Most of the victims of coronavirus are old. Thousands of old people recently died in retirement homes or in their own households. I read a while ago that only one such dead person in Israel was tested post mortem, and found to be a carrier. So most of these people had coronavirus, yet the cause of their deaths are registered as pneumonia, heart failure, or other causes unrelated to the virus.

Effective decision making must be based on data which is both relevant and accurate. In Israel, there have been many reported problems with the validity of tests themselves, and then more issues in communicating those results – some being miscommunicated in the form of both false positives and false negatives.

Leadership has been poor worldwide. I want this blog in the category of Coronavirus and not ‘Politics’, so I shall not expand in this realm. I do permit myself to write that in Israel, the basis for decision making is unclear, especially when inconsistent.

There must be an effort to gather accurate data, and present it to the people. Transparency is essential. If trust is lost in the government, individuals will do as they see fit.

There are incidents which affect our lifestyles, usually only temporarily. Wars in Israel are harsh, yet as a society, we tend to return to routine after a month or so.

The coronavirus will be around for a long and indefinite time. It will redefine our lives, forever. As soon as we recognize that, the better we will adapt.

Israel’s method of coping was to shut the country down, and then pride ourselves on our success in battling the virus. We did not do battle – we just dug in. Now the government realizes we must exit our foxholes. Otherwise the economy will disintegrate, and children and youth will not be educated.

Yesterday the schools were partially opened, in theory, by a government decision. Many of the municipalities ignored the government directive, stating that they could not abide by all the conditions, whether in the short or long term. This is an example of distrust in the government, which can eventually lead to anarchy in other realms.

There will be plenty of material on the success or failure of schools to open effectively, so I will not elaborate in this blog.

We must all hit the reset button on our lives. Until we come to the realization that we have to reinvent the wheel, we will keep making vehicles that cannot travel smoothly.

Confusing NEEDS and WANTS is a common phenomenon. This virus is forcing us to revisit our needs, and reduce our wants. When spring cleaning begins, we reorganize our wardrobes. We throw out clothes that are worn out, that have become too big or too small for us, or are no longer fashionable. Now, many of our routine ‘wants’ will share the fate of those discarded clothes.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. We are being forced to go back to the basics. Our family and friends have taken priority over material possessions. Just going for a walk after isolation is like a child’s trip to Disneyland.

We take nothing for granted any more. We appreciate little things. We even show our appreciation more for others, especially medical staff. In Israel 40% of the medical staff are Arabs. As a result, the Israeli Arabs have again become our ‘cousins.’

Families are now one, communities are more cohesive, and societies are more tolerant. We look more to help one another, than take advantage.

Health is more important than material treats. ‘Spare’ money is great for periods of lost income, yet of limited value otherwise. Even if you own a private jet, to where will you fly?

Uncertainty is something we must learn to tolerate and investigate, instead of distorting reality to fuel our hedonism. So instead of asking: ‘When will things get back to normal?’ understand that Coronavirus is the new ‘normal.’ There are advantages of starting life all over again.

About the Author
Rocky Abramson is the author of two books: 'Mind over Coronavirus' and 'The Combat Psychologist.' He is a Canadian-born organizational psychologist and a combat psychologist in the IDF reserves, having served in elite units as a combat officer. He applies his unique experience to high stress situations. He has engaged in consulting, and conducted an array of workshops, specializing in 'The Psychology of Terror.' Rocky lives in the Jerusalem Hills.
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