What Have You Learned From the Pandemic Year?
All of us have a chance to consider the lessons we take from this experience.
Posted March 25, 2021 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
My world changed when I got my second COVID-19 vaccine dose. I waited the requisite two weeks following the second dose before trying out my new status. Still wearing a mask, I walked into the grocery store. I was a bit anxious; clearly I had internalized all the precautions of the past year. I was not ready to wander all the aisles, something I used to do before the pandemic. The next week I went over to visit friends I had not seen in a year, as we had all been fully vaccinated. We still sat outside. We were all a bit unsure of how to let ourselves return to old ways, even after reviewing the CDC guidelines that stated for people who were all fully vaccinated it was OK to be together indoors. We weren’t ready.
My brother got a new car a year ago. I have seen it from the outside but had never been inside it until this past week. It felt odd to be together in a closed car. I have plans to meet a friend at a restaurant next month, but we both felt better finding a place where we can eat outside.
I keep asking myself, "Am I OK to do all these things?"
In fact, as silly as this sounds, I repeatedly have to remind myself that I really was vaccinated. I am a bit shy of needles, so for the first dose I looked away. The nurse was good at her job, I did not even feel it. As she was putting on the Band-Aid, I had to ask her if I really got the shot. She smiled and assured me I did. However, I admit that while driving home I was angry at myself for not looking to be sure it happened! It was still dark out, as the appointment I managed to secure online was at 5:45 a.m. It all seemed like a dream. Did I really get the vaccine? Luckily, by that evening my arm hurt right at the spot of the Band-Aid, and I felt kind of lousy for a day or so. But you can be sure that I watched when I got my second dose! And when following that second dose I had the chills and felt really tired and achy, I was thrilled. I had proof that indeed I had been vaccinated.
I have begun to feel my life inch back to freedom. I am glad that it is going slowly. Maybe this is one of those times in life when we look backwards and forward, a key moment in life and in history. We can ask what we have lost that we now have a chance at getting back. I Googled “learning from the pandemic” and got 729,000,000 results! Clearly, I am not alone in this stage of reflection. There are great pieces out there that are very insightful, identifying lessons we can draw from the pandemic, such as resilience and understanding what is essential. We may have learned that we can master skills we didn’t know we had like video conferencing and socializing in new ways. If we look at society, we have learned about the importance of science and how woefully unequal our health care system is. I appreciated reading the lists of things we have learned that others have gathered. [See sources below for a partial list.]
The things we have learned will differ for each of us. But we can share by asking the questions: What can we learn from the pandemic? What should we learn? What can we take with us from living through a year like this? I can’t say that it is easy, but I do believe after a year of upended lives it’s worth considering what to take with us from the experience. As a researcher of empathy, I know that learning from experience is one of the best ways to build empathy.
Although I would never want to go through this again, there is great value in lived experience. The past year can teach us about our lives and the lives of others. Take some time to reflect on what the past year has changed, what we know now that we did not know before, and how might we use this imposed pause as a reset. We are at a point in our lives to be thoughtful about what we do next and how we do it. When we work to understand what meaning life experiences may have, we can thoughtfully plan for the future, and we build our empathy skills too.
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Earth Institute at Columbia University
University of California San Francisco