I am seriously intimidated by my light switch.
Technically, I know, it’s not just a light switch. It’s a programmable light timer with an LCD display, three-way switch compatibility and synchronization to either the time of day or sunrise and sunset, depending on my whim.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, I can program up to 50 different on/off cycles during the week.
That’s seven per day, plus a bonus on/off to surprise the cat, if we ever get a cat, which we won’t.
In normal times, I’d see that the switch can handle 50 programs and I’d just think it was a really stupid idea. Nobody within a light year of sanity is going to need 50 different on/off cycles for a light. No matter, though. Some engineer decided this was a great array and the product manager signed off on it and now I’m staring at the blinking LCDs and wondering whether I shouldn’t be much more creative about this.
In the time before, I would have sneered at the idiocy of adding an impossible number of features to a light switch and I’d go about the rest of my day. Now, though, I don’t have anything to do for the rest of the day, so I keep staring at the light switch and wondering what I am missing.
I’ve been through this before; we all have. When we opened up our word processing software for the first time and discovered that it included 3,427 fonts, we were very impressed. But we had other things to do, so we’ve been using Times New Roman 100% of the time since then and we never thought twice about it.
That’s because we had lives to live in the time before. We had places to go and people to see and commuting to commute and an actual 3D world to explore. Now, though, even the most adventurous among us is living in a smaller world, more circumscribed, more limited.
Even the people who think this is a hoax, who demand their right to go anywhere and do anything with zero restrictions, are living in a smaller world. Wherever they go, the crowds are smaller, the celebration is more muted, and at least a few absent friends will never pull up a chair again.
Along the way, we’ve all gotten smaller as well. It’s an insidious process, unnoticeable day by day, but it’s immensely powerful. As we become more isolated, as we engage less with others, our thoughts increasingly turn inward. We become more self-focused, less self-aware, more sensitive to our own fears and less sensitive to others.
As our worlds shrink, we shrink as well. Like Plato’s man in the cave, we begin to believe the shadows are reality. We see the world in two dimensions, on a screen, and we are more easily manipulated than we were when our worlds, and we, were bigger.
We like to think we’re above it, that we’re smarter, harder to fool, but we’re still human. We see what we see, and when we see less, we become less.
Smaller can be cured, but it takes some effort to reverse the trend. We can check in on an old friend, find a local business to save, provide encouragement to front-line workers, fight to stay engaged in the real world of God’s children…pretty much anything to prevent ourselves from fixating on a light timer, or fonts, or some meme that cannot possibly be true.
Today is a good day to start out on the road back to full size. What’s the first step for you?
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Trapped in yet another Zoom call, I’m listening to a dozen colleagues as they discuss the virus, the economy, protests, elections and what-not and I had only one question:
Who are these people and what planet do they inhabit?
Then I realized they might be wondering the same thing about me.
Yes, I know I’m supposed to say we’re all in this together or some other claptrap, but the fact is that we’re all living in different worlds and we see only what’s in front of us in our personal version of reality. For instance, I know some people…
…who are making a killing as a result of the pandemic and others who probably will be out of business by the end of winter.
…who are raking in cash from Wall Street’s exuberance and others who are trying to scrape together lunch money on Main Street.
…whose careers will be mostly gone a few years from and others who are on an arc of long-term growth.
…who plan to be self-quarantined for many months to come and others who venture out without masks, getting up close and personal with anyone who crosses their paths.
The space between our daily lives and our fundamental perceptions can be huge, which makes it a major challenge to bridge the gap and understand each other. That assumes, of course, that we care enough to try, and that turns out to be a frequently flawed assumption.
Many people in my business/social circles have a tendency to reject the legitimacy of any ideas other than their own. When we do engage in a conversation, I’ve noticed that their goal is to convert, not to understand, so we are stuck at square one forever.
It’s our fatal flaw that we all praise innovation and American ingenuity, but we make almost no effort to be praiseworthy in our own lives. We marvel at tech upgrades and medical advances and new industries that overwhelm the traditional world, but we duck and hide when it’s our chance to become truly marvelous ourselves.
Reconsider our approaches? Challenge our conventions? Rethink our paths? No way, Mr. Feliciano. We’re fine with our thinking inside this box. New ideas are nice, in theory, but let’s not go crazy here.
We tend to think of change as something that the other guy needs to do, even though the only person we can change is ourselves. The funny thing is that we do change, multiple times, as events and our own evolution progress over time. Most of those changes, though, are unconscious, unintentional. When it comes to the type of changes that we can control the most, we suddenly become acutely aware and very, very resistant.
I’m not expecting much from the next Zoom call. We’ll all “walk in” with the same perceptions as the last time and it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll exit the session with our worldviews unaltered. From my screen, the new normal looks exactly like the old one.
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I know a couple who finally put away enough money to retire, so they sold their business and invested their sweat equity in the stock market.
It was 2008, just before the crash.
I ran into the wife earlier this year, still working part-time at the store she used to own and making plans to retire, again. She’d had a dozen years to adapt to her “new normal,” knowing that her old normal, the one that seemed absolutely certain in 2008, isn’t coming back.
I think about her and her husband whenever people tell me about their hopes for returning to normal after this pandemic subsides. Normal, the one we were counting on in January of this year, isn’t coming back.
On one level, we should recognize this as a fundamental truth. We tend to think of the current situation as the norm, or think back to a specific point in time as the benchmark for normalcy, but the only real normal is change. We, the world, are eternally in flux.
I have some friends who believe the pandemic is a hoax that is being promoted to affect the presidential election, so they also believe it will fade into the background on November 4. I have other friends who think access to a vaccine will enable us to reboot the economy to our bookmark date of January 1, 2020. I know more than a few guys who seem to think we can return to normal by reopening everything and getting to herd immunity as quickly as possible, because it’s worth the trade-off in lives lost.
Me? I think they are kidding themselves. Too many people, and organizations, have been changed by this for us to bounce back to the days of yore.
When/if there’s a vaccine, for example, an above-average percentage of the population won’t take it at first. I am included in that group. I get my flu shot every year, but the race for a vaccine has become so politicized that I can’t find my way to trusting whatever gets approved first, or second, or maybe even third.
All the political wrangling has achieved its goal of causing distrust, but that distrust translates into an extended crisis. I probably will wait six or eight or twelve months before taking any vaccine and that means I will wait six or eight or twelve months before I dine indoors or go to a casino or fly on a plane.
How many people will skip the vaccine? Certainly, the people who refuse to take any vaccines already will sit this one out, but millions more will wait a long time before they accept that the vaccine is safe. Whether it’s 5% or 10% or 0.8% of the population, this caution will slow our economic recovery and delay our return to “normal.” Herd immunity, if it could be achieved for this particular virus, might remain out of reach as the vaccinated cohort makes up too low a percentage of the population.
Meanwhile, dozens of industries and about a million companies will need years or decades to recover, if they manage to survive at all, because their profit models are based on cramming a large number of people into a small space for an extended period. That includes restaurants, bars, mass transit, airlines, casinos, hotels, health clubs, sports arenas, convention centers, churches, schools, office buildings, theaters, and probably a few dozen I haven’t thought about.
Well-capitalized companies, which tend to be larger, will tend to be the survivors, while mom-and-pop stores fail, accelerating the concentration of wealth and commerce that has been underway for decades. As small businesses fail, their owners might simply decide to retire, increasing the impacts for the Social Security system.
On the other end of the working years, millions will discover that their career paths have been washed away by social distancing, online commerce and working from home. Whether it’s the people who cleaned the now-empty offices or the chefs who have no restaurants, the disruptions will be significant for enough people that their social and financial progress might be delayed for an extended period.
Changes that are already under way, such as the rise of online shopping and communication, will accelerate during this period of reduced personal contact. Changes that might have taken another 5-10 years might be compressed into one or two, making any disruptions more rapid and severe.
However the world changes, and changes us, the ripples will be sustained, like a thousand butterfly effects competing for influence. It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact impact of each shift, which is a truth that applies to every change we encounter, but we know enough from prior upheavals to recognize that shifts will occur.
Every day is a new normal, a new life, and the only thing we can know for sure is that we’re never getting back to the way things were in the time before.
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The first thing to understand is that nobody dies from CV-19. Nobody dies from cancer or diabetes or having a piano fall on our heads, either. We die from something putting such a substantial burden on our hearts that they stop beating, so essentially 100% of us die “from” cardiac arrest.
Still, there is always something that puts the strain on our hearts, whether it is cancer or diabetes or having CV-19 taking over our lungs. In many cases, CV-19 tips the scales fatally for someone who is already battling the effects of some other malady. And when that happens, people have a disturbing habit of blaming the victims for their own mortality.
“Well, she was only 37, but she had asthma, so that’s really what killed her.”
“After three years of dialysis, the virus was just the final nail. By that time, I suspect he really wanted to die.”
“If only he’d become a vegan, he never would have gotten cancer in the first place. If you think about it, he essentially committed suicide.”
“Remember how she kept saying it was all a hoax? Hah! Karma’s a bitch, baby.”
Yes, of course, it’s a TRUE FACT!!! All of these people were asking for it and they were ultimately happy to decrease the surplus population. Coronavirus is the real victim here, falsely blamed for killing nearly a million people who wanted/deserved to die. Kinda makes you want to take the virus into your home and give it a warm snuggle and…never mind.
It’s a deflection, of course. Whenever something goes wrong and we cannot control or prevent it, we try to find a reason that it only happens to other people. Even if we have some underlying condition—a status that applies to about 80% of people over the age of 55 and a disturbingly large percentage of people under that age—we try to convince ourselves that THEY were much more vulnerable than WE are.
That kind of deflection makes it very easy to be nonchalant about THEIR deaths, especially since most of us don’t know a person who has died from the disease. Yet. On average, if each of us was going to know one person who died of the virus at this point, we would need to have a social circle of about 2,000 people.
We’re more likely to know someone who contracted the disease and recovered, of course, but that reinforces our tendency to ascribe blame to the people who succumb. The people who survived were strong, maybe blessed, much as we are, while the people who died were weaker, less deserving, even a bit guilty.
Denial is a useful coping mechanism in times like these, but it does have its limits. When we start blaming the victims of a pandemic, we just might have gone over the line.
We never went to med school, so this review of medicine and psychology might sound just a bit too simple, but that's okay. We like to keep things as simple as possible, which is why it's so easy to subscribe by just clicking here.
After couple of months of tipping people 50% to deliver my pizza and toilet paper, I’m reconsidering the entire concept of tipping. Why am I tipping some service providers but not others, and when did a lagniappe become a requirement? For example:
Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that nobody in a position of authority chooses to work for tips. Maybe there’s a lesson here, if only I could figure out the hidden meaning.
Subscribing to Dad Writes is almost like giving me a tip, except it doesn’t cost you anything and you don’t even need to enjoy the experience in order to do it. Just click here to sign up and I will feel fully compensated.
Looking back on it, all my time in isolation has had its upsides, including a bunch of life hacks and new games that can pay big dividends in any future pandemic, snowstorm or hangover. Just in case we end up with a second wave in the fall, or sooner, you’ll want to bookmark this list of new pastimes I discovered while in the hole…
Normally, we’d say, “don’t try these tricks at home,” but not this time. Of course, it’s a good idea to make sure your homeowner’s insurance is up to date, just to be safe.
Last year on Fathers Day, we chronicled the missed opportunities among unengaged dads. Next week, we look at a different kind of role model. What kind? Just click here to subscribe and you’ll be the first to know.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.