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The lessons of gloom, doom, and Zoom

If you’re like us, you’re probably spending the ever-longer nights of fall dreaming of when “the new normal” reverts to the old.

When and whether that will happen is unfortunately unclear. We assume nothing. We don’t want to run afoul of the adage about “assume” being condensed from “making an ASS out of U and ME.”

Facing an uncertain future on a pandemic-plagued planet, perhaps it’s time to devote a few of our dwindling daylight minutes to pondering what we should have learned if the new normal ever does come to an end.

First, schools shouldn’t be government-run day care. Education isn’t a pre-packaged meal served to children by others. It’s something each of us can and should have an everyday role in, as the pandemic often has required.

Parents don’t have to be able to recite the Pythagorean Theorem or explain how to calculate the number of moles of gas in some cylinder. But they need to do more than just hand kids a tablet or a bunch of homework. They need to encourage kids to be inquisitive, to analyze the world, and to separate fact from fiction.

Forget the many things we’ve lost to COVID. Some of the things we should have gained are closer relationships with children as well as elders, with whom we now are spending more quality time while also tending to everyday needs.

Even on a planet plagued by pandemic, eventually the vastness of streaming services, video games, and surfable websites becomes exhausted and our relationships need to be based on something more than merely showing up for events and entertainment.

Some of the things we kept our kids and elders busy doing may have been fun to watch, but we shouldn’t confuse showing up for becoming actively involved, just as we shouldn’t expect teaching to automatically translate into learning.

The lessons of COVID also apply to business lives. Many of the businesses most hurting these days are those started on a shoestring — the same businesses that used to laugh at others who insisted on owning their own buildings, having at least half a year’s revenue in reserve, and encouraging workers — often owners themselves — to be as frugal as possible.

Huge, highly leveraged businesses with distant owners who avoid sinking capital into owned facilities and internal supply chains may be more profitable in an expanding economy. But small, local businesses that buy rather than rent facilities and refuse to outsource essential components tend to do better in a less-robust economy.

Standing on your tiptoes on the last rung of a ladder may get you the brass ring in fair weather. But when winds like Sunday night’s are howling, it’s more likely to result in lying face down on the ground.

Now is the time to be a tortoise not a hare. Reversing the message of the theme song for the irreverent TV series “Psych,” you shouldn’t expect to run when you can’t crawl.

This is a time for businesses to identify what products they can supply, not merely the ones they have supplied. Exactly what they sell may have to change a bit, but it still can meet the same needs as did the products they originally sold.

The same holds in other parts of life, as well, all the way down to such juvenile things as youth basketball leagues.

Recreation commissions are right in re-crafting winter basketball leagues for tiny tots to reduce the number of games with distant opponents and increase time spent in practice, learning fundamentals of the game.

The result may be fewer events for relatives to attend, but the long-term investment in developing skills may pay off in much more competitive contests when the tots turn to teens and begin carrying their towns’ banners into athletic battles.

Among COVID’s side-effects are the elimination of many of the short cuts we have tried to take — in business, in education, and even in personal relationships.

Journalism professors see this all the time when trying to teach new freshmen. Arriving from wealthy suburban schools, many often already have served as producers and anchors of morning TV newscasts within their schools. They think of themselves as seasoned pros when in fact they were merely amateurs who insisted on running when they couldn’t crawl.

Not every occupation is as forgiving as broadcast journalism, where reporters, to quote a Don Henley lyric, just have to look good; they don’t have to be clear.

As a society, we’re roughing it through COVID-19. But getting back to the basics can be as much blessing as curse if we’re willing to learn from the experience.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Oct. 14, 2020

 

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