Stop Griping About Social Distancing. Embrace the Reset.
When I was young, I didn't exactly live in hurricane central, but I did survive a handful of them. The most difficult experience was Hurricane Gloria, which hit Connecticut in 1985. That experience has crossed my mind a lot this past week. Panic has set in over this pandemic, and folks are hoarding all sorts of random items. Governments have ordered many different measures of social distancing in an effort to slow down the spread of the Chinese virus COVID-19. It seems America needs a hard reset when it comes to crisis management and personal preparedness. Let's take this time to relearn those lessons we've forgotten.
When I think back to the hurricanes and blizzards and power outages and other tribulations I experienced as a kid, I don't recall panic buying. I don't recall people being that unprepared. Thinking it might have been my youth and lack of attention to detail, I called my dad — and he confirmed he's never seen anything like this, either.
This occurred to me because I ran across this article that made me laugh out loud with its prognostications of doom:
Draconian countermeasures have been adopted in many countries. If the pandemic dissipates — either on its own or because of these measures — short-term extreme social distancing and lockdowns may be bearable. How long, though, should measures like these be continued if the pandemic churns across the globe unabated? How can policymakers tell if they are doing more good than harm?
Vaccines or affordable treatments take many months (or even years) to develop and test properly. Given such timelines, the consequences of long-term lockdowns are entirely unknown.
I didn't laugh out loud at the prospect of this thing stretching out for longer than anyone has anticipated. That's a deadly serious prospect, and everyone should prepare themselves. The hyperbolic claims did seem a bit much though, and we still have no idea if we'll be past this in two weeks, four weeks, or longer.
What made me incredulous, however, was how dire the prospect seems. The idea that we are so interconnected, reliant upon society to provide, and inextricable from our daily routines struck me as simultaneously funny and sad. The commentary on our lack of self-reliance and ability to cope doesn't reflect well on what we think of Americans. We've dealt with crises far better in the past.
What if, instead of panicking about working from home and being cooped up with the kids, away from our normal activities outside the home, we could instead look at this as an opportunity to simplify our lives? Can't we use this as a way to reset our lifestyles, and focus solely on the important things?
The economy will most certainly contract. We will lose some ability to connect, a large measure of economic opportunity, and some level of modern convenience. Drawing on my experience during Hurricane Gloria, I actually view this as an opportunity.
In 1985, I had just started my freshman year in high school in southeastern Connecticut. Two years prior, my parents bought a 10-acre farm with a house that dated back to colonial times. We set about turning it into a functioning hobby farm. We raised hundreds of chickens and rabbits, we had half a dozen geese, a couple of goats, and even a couple of cows at one time. My mom and my dad and us three kids became proficient in butchering, and my mom had an enormous garden for canning vegetables. We lived a pastoral lifestyle and always had plenty of farm-fresh food in the freezer and the pantry.
Hurricane Gloria tested us. We lost power for almost a week, which meant that our well didn't function. That meant no showers, no toilets, no electricity. We lit our home with kerosene lamps and used wood and coal stoves to heat. We had a generator to power our freezer, and we had canned goods aplenty. We couldn't connect the generator to the well, though, so we had to go to the local volunteer fire station with a couple of garbage cans lined with heavy bags for potable water. That came in very handy, I recall, when we needed to use the toilet and our water supply didn't work.
I think of this experience and realize that social distancing doesn't need to cause suffering. A disaster — and this disaster looks like nothing we've ever seen — doesn't need to lead to panic. We've lost something in our self-reliance and sense of owning our own fate. I haven't lived in the country since I went off to college, so I've just sort of gotten used to a suburban/urban lifestyle where I can just go any time to pick up a few things at the store.
For all these reasons, I look at social distancing as an opportunity for a reset. I've already been stocking up on groceries, as a hedge against inflation or economic downturn. Nonperishables now occupy several cabinets in my garage. I work from home anyway, so the kids haven't disrupted much of my lifestyle as school cancellations forced them home as well.
Most Americans don't think about these contingency plans. Surveys show that Americans carry too much debt and don't have much savings to help weather a crisis. Most Americans reportedly can't cover a $1,000 emergency, never mind the ability to cover 3-6 months of expenses should a job loss or disaster occur. When a family must service that debt load and has no savings, they teeter on the edge much more than they'd like to admit.
I'm looking at this pause in our modern life as a chance to reset and get back to a more simple lifestyle. Some things I'll do with my family while we're all stuck here include teaching them how to cook more than just macaroni and cheese.
We'll also take the time to go over a detailed emergency preparedness plan: what supplies do we need; do we have a bug out plan in case of fire, earthquake, etc.; what happens when the power goes out; that sort of thing. Despite all the commercials advertising FEMA's disaster preparedness recommendations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it doesn't seem as though many Americans have taken heed. The run on toilet paper is a singular example that most Americans have no idea what they need or what they're lacking when a crisis hits.
There are a bunch of great courses out there on how to create a proper household budget and stop relying on consumer debt to pay for basic expenses. Debt is slavery, and financial freedom is one of the most empowering things a family can learn. Take this time to find a course that works for you. One of the best is Dave Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover. Also, take the time to reset your consumption and spending habits. We're entering a time of unknown length in which we all need to conserve our supplies. Take that seriously.
Use the internet as a positive force. Several Facebook groups have popped up that list resources in the community to help mitigate shortages. Learn from homeschool parents how to deal with this and generally stay connected while social distancing. There are tons of free courses available for school-age children to keep their minds engaged. In one group I've joined, this helpful list appeared:
A few tips for those who now have children at home because of school closures:
1) Realize that your child's daily expectations and daily schedules have also been disrupted, so be the adult and be patient and understanding.
2) If your child has lesson packets, don't set a time limit just because school was 6+ hours a day. If your child takes 30 minutes to finish the daily packet, that's fine. If your child takes 4 hours to finish the daily packet, do your best to help, but take breaks when needed.
3) If lesson packets or online lessons were not provided, the best thing you can do for your child is read out loud to her. At least 15 minutes a day. There are free books online if you don't have many children's books at home.
4) Play board games if you have them. Look online for games for 2 or more players. Teach your child to play by the rules and to be a good sport in a loss. Those are very important lessons to learn!
5) Go outside for a walk or play, or find a fitness video on YouTube if the weather is bad. Spend at least 30 minutes daily in some type of exercise.
6) Teach your child how to do common chores around the house, garage, and yard. Most children are able to do more than we give them credit for.
7) Finally, relax and enjoy each other's company. This time won't last forever, so build memories that will.
That brings up another point: don't stop exercising just because the gym closed. Social distancing doesn't mean sitting on the couch. Stay alive, stay active, take breaks, and get some fresh air. We went on a hike on Sunday, and it was a spectacular experience.
Another plan I have is to read more. The idea of simplifying, using this crisis as a catalyst, has kind of taken over my whole mindset. I plan to turn off the boob tube more often and limit my electronic exposure. Less buzzing machines, more silence.
Then again, there are tons of entertainment options as well. I also have a long list of classic movies, concerts, and documentaries in which to immerse myself.
Finally, since the kids won't have school for several weeks at least, it forces us to at least sample the homeschool life. Let's see if this can work for us. Plus, many parents have also explored the idea of having virtual classes, virtual playdates, and other ways for the kids to reconnect with friends they miss.
Whatever happens, don't panic, don't freak out about the disruptions in daily routines, and learn to embrace the simplicity of a less connected life. This is a massive disruption, to be sure, but there are just as many chances to use this reset for positive change. I will not let a lack of connection halt life for me and my family.
Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, "Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy," available now at www.WhoOwnsTheDems.com. Jeff hosts a podcast at anchor.fm/BehindTheCurtain. You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff.