The COVID-19 experience helps us decide what is essential and what isn’t
One effect of the lockdown is that we find ourselves with frequent decisions as to what is essential to our survival and happiness and what isn’t. Life gets stripped down to essentials, with all the extras becoming secondary, if that. Here are some ideas along these lines.
The first essential is food. The availability of food for us to buy entails a massive industry. First, there is the source which is the farmers and ranchers who provide our meat, fruit and vegetables. Their activities require thousands of acres of land and huge amounts of water for crops and livestock, which in turn depend on favorable weather. Bad weather can bring both floods and droughts.
Then there is also a vast capital expense required for equipment and labor to plant, cultivate and harvest the crops which feed both people and animals.
Ahead is the immense supply chain which involves the transportation, processing and ultimately delivery to the thousands of stores and restaurants which will make our food supply available to all of us. It is important to remember that this entire industry and all its parts must continue to operate at all times in order for us to survive. Any significant disruption could have disastrous consequences.
Closely related to food is water. Humans can survive longer without food than without water. The availability of water involves another massive industry as well as favorable weather. When we turn on a faucet and water appears, it is well to remember what has gone into that daily miracle.
The moral of these reflections is that 1) we are all radically dependent on the proper functioning of extremely complicated and expensive sources and supply chains for the very fundamentals of our existence, and 2) that the survival of the human race depends on factors which are mostly beyond our control.
Among other things, these essentials remind us that they depend entirely on people working, pandemic or no pandemic.
The subject of “work” brings up another consideration: buildings may not be as universally essential as we thought. Specifically, our housing is essential. If we never thought about that before the “shelter in place” mandate appeared, staying home for three or four months certainly showed us the importance of our house.
For many, however, the experience also demonstrated that “office” is not essential to work. We have been forced to discover that, thanks to all the modern communication technology, much of the work we do can be as easily preformed at home as in an office. So, offices are not really on some lists as essential.
But work really is essential. We have discovered what we always knew – that our work is what keeps us going, defines our place in this society, which, if we are not satisfied with the way things are, provides alternatives for us to test and follow. Work is also critical for society as a whole because it constitutes the means by which all those complex supply chains are sustained. Combined, they are the “economy” which is followed so thoroughly by the news – and Wall Street.
Another essential which has been forced to the front of our attention span by the pandemic is our family. In many cases, parents who work hard in often stressful circumstances have re-discovered the importance and the joys of marriage and parenthood by staying home for extended periods. They have become re-acquainted with their spouse and children, and spouses and children have in turn made their own discoveries.
Fathers especially sometimes become almost mythical figures to children who see them only for short periods, often in a disciplinary circumstance. The rest of the time their father is talked about but not there. Getting to know each other better is beneficial to all.
Hygiene is another subject which has drawn more attention in the last few months than in the last few years. We have been told ad nauseum how to wash our hands and sterilize every surface in sight. Like it or not, cleanliness – of person and environment – has become a new essential.
Shopping, restaurants, sports events and sports teams have fallen to lower placed priorities. All are missed – acutely by some – but there are other ways to get exercise and to prepare and consume food and drinks, other ways which involve much less risk of contracting disease.
Among the essentials most missed, however, are social events and interactions with other people. Some have discovered that the absence of crowds and gatherings is so important that being deprived has led to depression or worse. Others – often a significant number – have decided to seek communal activities, whether parties or protest marches, in spite of advice and even prohibitions to the contrary. To them, a full social life is essential, damn the consequences!
Just some contemplative thoughts (while working at home!).
Working from home is a massive lifestyle change, but there are things you can do to make it easier.
This week, owing to the coronavirus, many Americans are going to experience the highs and lows of working from home. While there are definite plusses to working from your own abode, it’s not all sliding across the living room floor in a white button-down shirt and socks.
I have worked from home for the past two years and it takes discipline, fortitude, and a solid work ethic. I have none of these things. So how do I manage?
A friend years ago told me that his mother and father met at work. The first thing his mother noticed was that when the boss left, his father was the only one who kept working. That’s a big part of working from home, that kind of self-motivation. But there’s a flip side to that: when home and work mix you are always at home, but you are also always at work. It’s important to set some boundaries.
Small things can make a big difference when you work from home. My biggest piece of advice might be to go outside during the day. Did you ever have that thing where you neglected to drink water for several hours and then you feel awful and you’re like, What is wrong with me? Then you drink water and instantly come back to life? Going outside is like that when you work from home. You go stir crazy like a boiling frog otherwise.
It’s very easy for the walls to start feeling like they are closing in when you telecommute. That’s why keeping your place clean is more important and more difficult. Not to sound too much like Jordan Peterson, but a messy place makes it harder to work effectively.
If you work 9-5 outside the house, then you probably spend about 7 or 8 hours awake in your house at most on a weekday. Now you will be doubling that, and the more time you’re in your place the messier it gets. Trust me on this: it accumulates fast. Maybe while everyone is hoarding toilet paper you can hoard some paper plates. Work is an excellent excuse to not do the dishes.
Now, this is going to sound pathetic and sad, but social media can be your friend when you work from home. In an office environment you chitchat, water cooler yak, call it what you will. The day at work is sprinkled with social interactions. Checking in on Twitter or Facebook isn’t just a time suck when you work from home; it helps keep you sane by socially interacting, albeit imperfectly, with other people.
Another thing worth considering is the concept of a virtual commute. Whether your IRL commute is short or long, it’s probably riddled with ritual. You might stop for a bacon, egg, and cheese, read the Post on the subway, pull in for a Half and Half at Dunkin, etc.
The commute is a home to work limbo. You aren’t working, but you are compelled to be where you are. Giving yourself a half-hour before and after working with similar rituals, like listening to a podcast, reading a book, or playing a game on your phone can help.
The most overwhelming thing about working from home for an extended period of time is that it is a lot of time in your own head. Traditional workspaces are full of novel diversions and distractions; your place is kind of just your place. In the absence of external stimulation, your mind turns in on itself, which can be a little jarring. Weird stuff will pop into your head. If you get mental claustrophobia, take some breaks. There’s no reason the rhythm of your workday has to be the same at home as it is at work.
Making your home your office, especially if it goes on for a long time, is a major lifestyle switch. But it’s one that is in many ways under your own control. Give some thought to what you want it to be like, how you want it to flow, and experiment with schedules and work patterns that work for you.
Finally, when you close the laptop, close the laptop. This is easier for some of us than others. As a journalist I’m always at work in some sense; news never stops, especially these days. But I still need to carve out time to log out and watch a movie, or do some cooking while listening to music. Let your home become your home again — at least until you wake the next day and start it all over again.
Dear Chairmen Kline and Upton:
We write in strong opposition to H.R.5365, the “Muhammad Ali Expansion Act,” legislation introduced by Rep. Markwayne Mullin to regulate mixed martial arts (MMA), which is one of the most popular sports in the U.S. and fastest growing throughout the world. This misguided legislation is yet another unfortunate and unneeded regulatory power grab that will stifle the dynamic innovation and success of MMA. Continue reading