The Pandemic Will Change Everything

America 2.0: Ready or not, here it comes. Five cognitive strategies can help.

Posted Apr 06, 2020

geralt/ Pixabay
Source: geralt/ Pixabay

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus once famously wrote, “Change is the only constant in life.” Sometimes it is slow and gradual. Sometimes it comes in the most fleeting of moments… in the blink of an eye. Regardless of how it comes, we all shall be changed.

That said, the pandemic will change everything. Famed futurist Alvin Toffler noted, “If we do not learn from history, we shall be compelled to relive it. True. But if we do not change the future, we shall be compelled to endure it. And that could be worse.”

America 2.0

It was May 2002. I was walking the streets of lower Manhattan, though I was living much of the week in Midtown. It was a beautiful spring day, the sky was clear and the air was warm.

But this was more than the sun-fueled warmth of a typical spring day. This was a calming if not reassuring warmth that seemed to embrace me. It was in the atmosphere, no, more the essence of the city itself. I could see it in the eyes of the people I saw on the street and in the actions of the shop keepers and the police.

I had visited New York City many times in the past from my home in Maryland. To be honest, I found New York to be a busy, crowded, and seemingly impersonal place, at least to someone from out of town. But I sensed something different immediately after arriving several days after the attack on the World Trade Center. I was there to assist the New York Police Department and the Port Authority Police of New York and New Jersey formulate a psychological support program for their personnel in the wake of the disaster.

So now here I was, getting ready to go home, 10 months after my arrival in the Big Apple. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was to officially close the World Trade Center disaster site. I was soon going to say good-bye to Mike, Bill, Pete, and Cherie. Four strangers, tough laser-focused New Yorkers, who became my instant best friends, confidants, and indeed people who changed my life forever.

But that’s what adversity does. It changes you. In the case of the World Trade Center disaster, adversity changed New York. It increased the sense of cohesion, compassion, and collective strength. The change that 9/11 created throughout America we called “The New Normal.”

More recently, Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, called the post-pandemic change we will experience, “America 2.0.” As the pandemic will change all of us, it will also change the world.

But positive change doesn’t automatically happen in the wake of adversity. Adversity can cripple and destroy. Just how adversity changes us depends more upon ourselves than one might think. Cognitive psychologists have shown that how we think about the changes ahead can have a profound effect on the ultimate impact these changes will have. 

geralt/ Pixabay
Source: geralt/ Pixabay

Crisis as an Opportunity to Make the Future Better

As we look to the changes the pandemic may bring, many of us look from a vantage point of fear and trepidation. Others embrace the change and see an opportunity to pay homage to the past as well as an opportunity for growth in the future. But Toffler reminds us it may be more than an opportunity, “Our moral responsibility is not to stop [the] future, but to shape it... to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma…” 

My father died almost ten years ago. I miss him every day. But I hold his memory close to me—and so he is with me every day. He retired as the chief financial officer of a large state agency. He enjoyed the precision and predictability of finance. But what he enjoyed more was music, and he was a truly gifted musician who turned down a career in Hollywood. He was an optimist who once wrote, “Old musicians never die, their song is gone but their melody lingers on.”

If we are wise enough to listen, the melodies of the past can inform and guide us into America 2.0. As I said earlier, how we think about an event or a situation greatly affects the ultimate impact we experience. Here are five cognitive perspectives on change that may not only mitigate adversity, but may help turn crisis into possibility.  

First, make a plan. It has been said that hope is not a plan and that if you don’t have a plan you will become part of someone else’s. Failing to plan is planning to fail Benjamin Franklin once wrote.

Second, never forget that the single best predictor of human resilience is the support of others. But that support must usually be earned. So to start, go out of your way to help others without any expectation of a return. Don’t expect anyone to say “thank you,” but be glad if they do. Don’t treat people the way you want to be treated; treat people as you believe they want to be treated. And always start with respect.

Third, remember the pain that does not destroy you will be your teacher. It will be a stepping stone to later success. The hardest part is often taking that first step to recovery and growth. Once you have taken that first step, understand that where strength of mind and tenacity exist, destiny usually follows.

Fourth, when fatigue and loneliness descend, as they inevitably will, resist the temptation to question whether or not you are making a difference. Everything you do makes a difference and will echo for eternity. It is what makes you immortal. You simply may not be fortunate enough to see the differences you have made.

And fifth, keep in mind that life is a journey, not a destination, as it will protect you from disappointment and failure. Draw strength from the fact that wherever you are and whatever you do, you are part of something greater than yourself. I shall adapt the words of Christopher Robin speaking to Pooh as we move on our journey toward America 2.0: “Promise me you'll always remember: We are braver than we believe, stronger than we seem, and smarter than we think.” Carpe diem, carpe futurum.

(c) George S. Everly, Jr., Ph.D.