What are you crazy? Pollyanna? Think the rest of us are nuts? How can you be optimistic in the age of coronavirus? Here is how. Follow me …
First, remember that bad news always squeezes out good. A 2014 McGill University study found journalists and readers tend to a “negativity bias.” We gravitate to bad news. Put differently, we are conditioned to sift news for the worst, as “bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we are doing to avoid danger” – even if the risk is low.
Similarly, readers react faster to “negative words.” Let’s see is that is – whoa, panic, death, global war, shocking, tragic, destruction, pandemic – true. Versus: Stable, secure, people recovering, return to healthy, happy, peaceful, thoughtful. What do you think? We are all different, but perhaps there is some negative news bias – it grabs us.
Second, numbers remain comforting – even if the word comforting does not grab us. In 330 million Americans, we have 22,123 cases of coronavirus, and 282 have died. Your chance of contracting the virus – on these numbers – is one in 14,916. Your chance of dying, one in 1,170,212.
For comparative purposes, annual data surrounding flu, which presents similar symptoms, offers comfort. Annually, between 16.5 and 66 million Americans get the flu. Roughly 200,000 are hospitalized, between 8200 and 20,000 die.
What does that data tell us? Beyond ease of transmission, we have a sub-population perennially at-risk to any virus. In a sense, the same precautions taken to avoid coronavirus transmission should – logically – attach to flu. It can be serious for some.
Differences are four – which is why we are “socially distant.” First, we do not know how swiftly coronavirus is transmitted. Second, we do not know which vulnerabilities make it serious. Third, we do not know why it progresses to pneumonia in a small percentage the vulnerable. Last, we are only learning the nature of recovery – how fast, what lingering effects. All that spells caution, not chaos.
The key is “not knowing.” Uncertainty – not death numbers – is why we are hunkered down. Keeping perspective is essential. Uncertainties exist around transmission and recovery, but that does not make the virus a Black Plague. It is not. It is simply new and has an uncharted transmission and recovery curves.
Third, how about those recoveries? Not widely reported, they should be. Globally, a third of all confirmed cases have already recovered. Logic – and scarcity of test kits – suggests many more may have contracted and recovered. Those not dying are recovering.
Even in the US, recovery is seldom mentioned. Onset differs state by state, and we can expect new cases as test kits proliferate, but recovery is occurring. Like confirmed cases, recovery is tipping upward.
Globally we have seen – just now – 297,635 cases. We have also seen 94,625 recoveries. In the US, we came late to this party, and that is good. Our transmissions are so far lighter and later since we shut down borders. That said, even now, we are getting recoveries. The point is that bad news – new cases and deaths – dominate, even as the good news is soft-pedaled.
Fourth, let’s take a longer view. The virus will pass, likely in weeks. The retail impact will be sharp but softened by fiscal support to individuals, families, small and large businesses. Credit markets will stay functional with a strong, coordinated monetary policy. That is already happening.
Most of all, the US economy’s underpinnings – oil’s volatility aside – are strong. People will return to work after layoffs, income streams resume, and consumption revives. Since consumption drives recovery, the return should be reasonably quick.
Fifth, having survived this scare and shock, our country will be stronger than before coronavirus. Riding out a crisis, responding, and learning to be resilient creates a reservoir of confidence, strength, and preparedness. Again, many will say – are you nuts? The answer is no.
History teaches us, but so does experience. What do you see around you? Probably this: More pulling together than pulling apart, more discerning important from unimportant, more focus on family and neighbor than national bombast, more attention to detail, and appreciation for facts. All that is good.
What else? Perhaps a greater sense of personal, family, community, and national identity, a rising sense of cohesion and commonality, rather than default to differences, refuge in division. We are realizing – all at once and all together – how united we can be. In that realization is enormous hope.
Some of us saw this happen after 9-11. Some saw the default to kindness, reidentification of fellow Americans as kindred spirits, a recommitment to making us “one nation under God, indivisible.”
Older Americans saw this sentiment in other moments, good and bad, encouraging and frightening, after our extraordinary moon landing, in the wake of assassinations in the 1960s, Korean War, and WWII.
What offers hope – a well of optimism – is simple. We Americans do not like to admit to ourselves or others that we are, most of us, clear thinkers and can-do. We are good hearts. We do not take stock of this national characteristic often, but then we do not confront the need to pull together often, either.
Optimism – grounded and comforting – comes from knowing we have clarity of thought, even if we differ. We have a can-do history, character, and capacity. We know right from wrong, mercy from judgment, effort from jarring rhetoric. We know how to get things done – and we do. We always have.
Our post-coronavirus world will be different. We will be awake to hygiene, global connectivity on health. We will be prepared with crisis response tools, policies, strategies, practices, and public-private partnerships. We will rethink overdependence on China and the value in diverse supply chains. We will be ready for whatever comes next, in ways we would not have been without this pandemic.
But most of all, we will be aware that – as a People, as individuals, families, communities, states, and a nation – we are ready, solid, resilient. Is that not good news, after recent ups and downs? Pollyanna? No.
We Americans know how to pull together when circumstances require. Our real challenge is remembering to value each other after this crisis passes, how to work together to when stakes are less immediate, concentrating on staying “one nation under God, indivisible.” I am optimistic.