Over the decades, society has sought economic growth at the expense of the environment and our quality of life. Granted, the standard of living has improved, but our quality of life has worsened. Stress. Pollution. Overcrowding. Alienation. All results of a mad dash for materialistic assets. For developed countries, it is high time for a paradigm shift from “more is better” to “better is more.” Instead of more gadgets and material goods, we need stronger families, less crime, less war, better education, better healthcare, and better use of leisure time. We do not need more. We need better.
But such a shift requires that all the necessary stakeholders embrace change. Political infrastructure, economic models, and educational systems must all be prepared to support the new standard.
We need an event that will mobilize the world and stop the race to destruction. Something that will cause us to pause, review where we are, and develop a forum for global cooperation to recognize our interdependency and create compelling change.
This event should motivate us to cooperate across borders. It must make us realize the value of relationships and love—love for each other, for the environment, and for the animals with whom we share this planet. We need to appreciate the value of life and health over the size of our balance sheets.
Is the coronavirus pandemic that event? It showed signs that it could have been, but unfortunately, I think not.
Here is why:
How would you boil a frog?
If you put it into boiling water, it will jump right out. But if you put it into room temperature water and increase the heat, just a bit, the frog will adapt. Increase the heat a little bit more. It adapts again. If you keep gradually increasing the heat, the frog will eventually boil.
That is how we are slowly, bit by bit, getting used to the coronavirus.
In the beginning, was panic. Rumors were flying about what to do and how to avoid the disease. There was a chance that positive change could happen. People started playing music for each other from their balconies, calling friends they have not spoken with for years. Families locked into one space together discovered each other. But what is happening over time? Like the frog, people are getting used to the coronavirus, its fatalities, and the numbers of those sick. When one person dies, it is a tragedy. When a million die, it is a statistic. So coronavirus fatalities are becoming just another statistic—the New Normal. Social distancing is not practiced religiously anymore. Stores are being opened.
How does this happen? How can people reject the science that suggests social distancing should be maintained longer?
My insight is that people do not accumulate information and then make a decision based on an impartial analysis of the data. As a consultant for many companies in fifty-two countries over fifty years, my observation is that people first decide based on assumptions, past experiences, and personal preferences, and then seek information that supports their decision and reject information that contradicts it. (If they do change their mind, it is often an uphill battle; with some, it feels like climbing Mt. Everest.)
In the case of this pandemic, people cannot stand being locked inside any longer. They need out, many to earn a living, some just to stop the isolation and people have decided to break the quarantine and are looking for information to support their decision. They try and justify their actions by saying, “coronavirus is not so terrible. Do you know how many die from influenza? From cancer? Coronavirus is like the flu. At worst, I will be sick for a few days. The economy cannot afford further social distancing.” The pressure is on to end physical distancing measures even though scientists warn that premature relaxing of the protocol can be dangerous and predict that a bigger wave of coronavirus will be back in the fall.
People are accepting an increase in heat. This does not mean that the pandemic will kills us all That will not happen. We will develop a vaccine, but we will not make the necessary changes in our behavior. I see the coronavirus pandemic as a missed opportunity to make the strategic changes humanity needs to survive.
If people are not willing to change how far they walk or sit from each other, why would they make the big, strategic changes needed to protect the environment? Apparently, we need another, even worse crisis. Maybe another pandemic. If so, it will be soon. The time from one epidemic to another is becoming shorter and shorter, so the next horrific public health crisis will happen in our lifetime. This will continue until the human race finally understands that unless we modify our behavior and stop destroying the world, we will boil ourselves to death like the frog.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes