What I ‘Love’ about this COVID-19 Experience

by Phillip Van Hooser, author and keynote speaker

If you’re looking for a reason to vent today, the title may be reason enough.

“How dare anyone suggest they ‘love’ something as horrid as COVID-19,” you might be thinking – or even screaming.

“This self-centered author (jerk) probably is ignoring public health directives, convinced he’s somehow special and immune to it all.”

“Seriously! Is he completely clueless regarding the severity of this situation?”

If there ever was a justifiable time to let off pent-up angst, it surely must be now. I get it. I’m feeling it, too. Isn’t everyone? So, if unleashing vitriol helps you cope with our current situation, then I’m good with that. After all, the objective is to help you in some way – both now and into the future. And, we need all the help we can get right now.

The stark realization

Like everyone else, I am trying desperately to come to grips with our world’s new current reality. Less than six short months ago, it was inconceivable that more than a handful of the people on this planet could have accurately described what COVID-19 – the coronavirus – was or, frankly, even cared.

Yet less than 180 days later, well over a million people worldwide have been stricken by it. Tens of thousands have died from it. And, economies on every continent lay in tatters due to it.

A previously anonymous disease, COVID-19 became known everywhere virtually overnight. The images and repercussions of the resulting human tragedy are likely to live with us all our lives.

Frankly, it may be too early for some, maybe even you, to begin an intentional search for positives. But, from a mental health perspective, I can’t wait. I’m searching now for any positives that might be drawn from this nightmare. Otherwise, I fear every future thought and memory of this coronavirus plague – especially the loss and suffering – will continue to cause emotional devastation long after the virus itself has run its course.

So, I’m telling myself, “If I can just learn something from this experience, then the great cost of human life and suffering will not be completely in vain.”

Collective vulnerability

In the early stages of my search, the first glimmer of hope appeared cloaked in obvious weakness, despair and helplessness. I have sensed it in the downcast tone of daily updates provided by our local, state and world leaders. It’s evident in the eyes of exhausted caregivers. I even have heard it in the innocence of a child wondering if “it’s OK to breathe today?” I’m finding that weakness, despair and hopelessness, as painful as each can be, also are great equalizers when experienced and shared with others. One thing we must realize – we’re all in this together.

In times past, natural catastrophes might have given rise to communities, regions and even entire countries rallying together in their shared moment of need. But, the entire world? People of every age and ethnicity, every socio-economic classification, every political or religious inclination all suffering from the effects of the same malady at the same time? It simply has never happened before.

We quickly learned that COVID-19 is no respecter of persons. Though some have proven more susceptible to its physical ravages than others, every human has proven capable of being an agent of transport – a carrier. We have suffered personally, or unknowingly provided opportunity for the suffering to occur in another or watched helplessly as the suffering morphed around us.

Collective creativity

Again, like it or not, we are all in it together. I call this new reality “collective vulnerability.” And, when collectively vulnerable, the only conceivable way to fight a common enemy and win is to do so collectively … together.

Thankfully, we are. We have washed our hands and kept our distance out of greater concern for the safety of the aged, weak and physically compromised among us. With soap and water as our primary weapons, we marched forth to do battle with this unseen enemy.

Almost overnight, industrial leaders turned their facilities from making automobiles and pillows to ventilators and surgical masks. Healthcare and residential care providers donned those masks and stared down prevailing airborne pathogens – not in an effort to prove themselves heroic, but rather to stay true to their calling and commitment, to serve others selflessly despite personal risk.

We realized that in our shared, collective vulnerability, it was unreasonable to expect any one person, group or leader to resolve this shared crisis. Therefore, we rallied, collectively embracing our shared vulnerability and then moving forward together.

#1: I hate the disease, but I love that we have found greater strength in one another.

Coordinated re-prioritization

As we moved forward together into the unknown, new plans of action were required. It’s impossible to plan effectively, with supreme confidence, for possible occurrences that no one has ever seen or experienced. And, despite what critics and armchair quarterbacks might say after the fact, no one could have planned with absolute certainty and accuracy how the COVID-19 pandemic would unfold and the destruction it would unleash.

Yet in the midst of the crisis, I have witnessed the emergence of what I now call, “coordinated re-prioritization.” That is where planning, experience and common sense all coalesce to determine what immediate actions are necessary and appropriate – and what aren’t.

Hospitals quickly became overwhelmed with coronavirus patients – and decisions were made to forego previously planned “elective” surgeries in order to free up beds for those in immediate distress. When those beds quickly filled to capacity, new “field hospitals” sprang up virtually overnight in unlikely places such municipal convention centers, cruise ships and in mobile tents in public places. When the number of qualified healthcare workers grew dangerously thin, retired healthcare professionals voluntarily headed back to the front lines of service.

Things might not have played out as we might have hoped. But, that was all right, too. For in a state of coordinated re-prioritization, the most important things to remember are the following:

  1. not the plan, but the objective;
  2. not how we used to do it, but how it must be done now; and
  3. not who gets the credit they crave, but who gets the help they need.

#2: I hate the disease, but I love the rise of our collective creativity and inner determination to do whatever needed to be done.

Collateral damage

I watched a movie years ago that first introduced me to the concept of “collateral damage.” Generally speaking, the term refers to unintentional casualties that occur in a military operation.

Early in the process of re-prioritizing and deploying resources in the fight against COVID-19, President Trump referred to our coordinated effort as “going to war against an unseen enemy.” The “war” analogy suggested a fight was necessary, imminent and worthy. This was not a war of ideology. This war required a fight for the lives and livelihood of our families, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.

Unfortunately, some turned their immediate attention to the impending collateral damage – those who would suffer innocently. Would-be “experts” and “talking heads” rushed to the nearest camera or microphone to predict countless deaths, healthcare services overruns, stock market collapse, economic ruin and almost certain recession. Frankly, some were right, to one degree or another.

Collateral advantage

Unfortunately, it was far harder to find those willing to highlight the “collateral advantage” of the moment. All citizens were called to the front. There were to be no bystanders. No one could “sit this one out.”

Whether it meant caring for the sick, tending to the elderly, educating children, producing and delivering food, providing essential services, sharing available resources or simply staying home intentionally – we all had an assignment.

As costly as this fight has been, it will be won. Once we review the high cost that was paid, we must also recognize what we learned.

#3: I hate the suffering this disease has caused, but I love fighting side-by-side with people I care about and who care about me.

So, do I really “love” COVID-19? Of course not! I wish this horrible disease and the suffering it has caused could have been avoided. But, that is no longer possible.

What is possible is that we commit ourselves to what we can learn from the experience and what we can learn about ourselves. And that, I do love!

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is a keynote speaker and author on leadership, service and communication. His popular book, “Willie’s Way: 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty” recently hit #1 in Customer Relations on the Kindle store. Connect with Van Hooser on LinkedIn and Facebook.