THIS PANDEMIC IS TEACHING ME SOMETHING IMPORTANT ABOUT MYSELF
This pandemic is teaching me something important about myself. Too often lately, I’m falling prey to the Streetlight Effect. (If you’re familiar with it, you can skip this next part and go to “Human beings…”)
What is the Streetlight effect? Here’s the usual story that explains it:
A policeman is walking by a bar one night, and he sees a drunk man crawling around on the ground beneath a lamp post.
“What are you looking for?” the cop asks the drunk man.
“I’m looking for my house keys,” the man says. “I lost them around here.”
“I’ll help you,” the cop says. Together, they begin to look around under the streetlight.
But after a few minutes, neither one of them can find the keys.
“Are you sure this is where you lost your keys?” the cop asks.
No, I’m not sure of that at all,” the man says. “I might’ve lost them in the alley.”
“Then why aren’t you looking in the alley?” the cop asks.
“Well, this is where the light is,” the drunk man says.
Human beings tend to look for the truth in the places where it’s easiest to search, rather than the places where it’s likely to be.
I’m guilty of this. And in these crazy days of the coronavirus, we tend to look to our favorite media and the people we trust (our streetlights) for the truth. But given the confusion and lack of real knowledge that exists about the virus, we need to be careful not to be too sure of ourselves. Because nobody really has the answers. Right now, it’s all guesswork.
Case in point: On Wednesday, I read a long scientific paper stating that it could take 10 years before we know if the coronavirus is something we can actually protect ourselves from, either from a vaccine or by catching it and building the antibodies that will stay with us for the rest of our lives — if indeed they will. Even the experts really aren’t sure.
In the meantime, do we continue to stay home until the cases throughout the country peak? Until a vaccine is developed? (President Trump is promising one by the end of the year, but the experts say it won’t happen until next spring at the earliest.) And while we wait, there are children to educate (not to mention hold and hug), jobs to do, people to take care of, lives to live. How long do we wait? And just how flat does the curve have to be?
On Thursday, Gene and I had socially distant drinks with a couple we know from business. He’s a cardiologist and, like many doctors, speaks with a very authoritative tone. I asked him where he stood on the coronavirus and whether people should begin venturing out. He talked about the folly in trying to totally avoid the germs all around us, that only a very small percentage of the people who come down with COVID-19 die from it, and they, for the most part, are already not well.
His attitude seemed so cold and objective. I think he was speaking the truth, but his apparent lack of concern for the vulnerable was troubling. I guess there are those who feel that most of us should simply go about our business, and let nature take its course.
He made me think, and that’s a good thing. But I don’t want to disregard my humanity in exchange for practicality. Surely there’s a way to proceed that acknowledges the need for people to work and support themselves and their families, but also protects the vulnerable.
So what is the way? A lot of people on both sides of the aisle are trying to figure that out. And in the meantime, I’m going to do my best not to judge how others choose to deal with that question, providing they’re taking a thoughtful approach. Because we won’t know for a long time what the best course of action may have been.
I’m going to do what’s comfortable for me, and within reason, allow others the same right. And I hope they will do the same for me. After all, we’re in this together.