Thanks to AI translation, you can now read this article in Chinese. Scroll down to the end of the English text to begin reading in Chinese.
(For international readers, allow me to explain: My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River near the Three Gorges Dam.)
In Chongqing, the first real impact of the virus outbreak now known as Covid-19 occurred as far back as mid-January. This was before it was even recognized as a pandemic and a worldwide threat. My wife and young son both had made travel plans to fit around their holiday (from her work and from his elementary school). Despite some ominous reports, our understanding of the gravity of the situation was so minimal that both of them left on their respective journeys as previously planned. But, by the time they returned to our home in CQ at the end of January, we were on full alert. Throughout January, the news was increasingly worrisome. By the time they were preparing for their return home, there had been some concerns about if they would be allowed to travel (even within China), which airline and train services would be curtailed, and if they would be subject to a mandatory quarantine at the end of their journey. Both arrived home safely and without complications but, in the following days, the downward spiral of fear, restrictions, and uncertainty progressed. Those three months, January through March, have changed our lives and lifestyle irrevocably.
As I write these words in mid-April, residents of CQ are approaching the end of the crisis measures – we fervently hope. The warm, lovely spring weather has seen people venturing outdoors again, albeit the vast majority are still wearing masks. Most businesses and public places have reopened. My wife has returned to work and my son has been notified that his elementary school will reopen in early May, presumably after the May Day holiday. (I wonder what the festivities will look like this year for May Day. Probably much more subdued than in past years. But, on the other hand, we will have much to be grateful for.)
Those three months have changed our lives and lifestyle as much as a nuclear holocaust. Really? As much as a nuclear holocaust? Is that hyperbole? Is it artistic license? I guess the accuracy of that statement will depend on how this pandemic plays out around the world. How many people will actually die or be permanently impaired? How many companies will never reopen? How many products and services will be difficult or impossible to obtain? How many people will not have a job to go back to, even after they are no longer in the shelter-in-place mode? How many people will emerge, blinking and smiling wanly, to find they have survived but have no financial resources to begin a new life? Don’t misunderstand me; economics is a distant second place in my priorities; avoiding filling body bags is first.
What is irrefutable is that we, collectively, have suffered a social and economic trauma that will not be forgotten quickly. Those of us who got lucky and dodged the Covid-19 bullet (so far, anyway) will still carry some psychic scar tissue into the future.
Yes, I am the one who glibly said, “Your grandparents survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and years of a world war that killed and wounded millions. You are being asked to wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay at home for a few weeks. Don’t screw this up.” I stand by those words. Compared to sacrifices made by previous generations, a mandatory isolation – complete with internet access, home delivery service, uninterrupted utilities, and 24/7 media coverage – seems pretty light. (That last one, 24/7 media coverage, is perhaps a mixed blessing. I wouldn’t want to be deprived of information but I wish we had a better signal-to-noise ratio.)
However, the cost for our generation is not so slight that we can completely overlook it. I have previously predicted that after the crisis passes and people are venturing out in public again, we will see a mini-Baby Boom (not mini-babies), a flurry of crash diets (by necessity), and a startling number of divorces. In some households, you may see all three. For many millions more, the cost may not be so visible but it will still be very real. In addition to the legitimate fear of death for ourselves and our loved ones, we will be dealing with the results of isolation and deprivation, plus a loss of security, innocence, and trust. Those feelings are real and they are not shallow. Indeed, I wonder just how objective I can be, given that I have been grounded for three months. Can’t see the forest because of the trees? What if I have become one of the trees?
My mother always said, “Things will work out for the best.” Also, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” And “It’s always darkest before dawn.” As a youth, this was assuring when my problems and confusion seemed overwhelming. As a young adult, I saw the value of an optimistic viewpoint when encountering difficulties – and difficult people. Now, in my, er, maturity, I have a different interpretation of Mother’s old saw. With my new, age-enhanced patina of enlightenment, I see it as meaning that every tragedy contains hidden opportunities for reinventing a life gone off-course, even dangerously dysfunctional.
In one of my favorite books – and still required reading for many classes in sci-fi literature – Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon has the protagonist dealing with a nuclear armageddon and the following weeks and months. In doing so, the main character becomes harder, leaner, more decisive, and he exhibits leadership skills that were previously only latent. In many ways, Randy Bragg, in his old life, embodied the modern trend of taking things easy, of thinking primarily of convenience and avoiding confrontation, and of wallowing in his creature comforts… including several slugs of bourbon with his morning coffee. But when the bombs fell, the standard of living he had enjoyed was no longer possible. As entire regions burned and infrastructure crumbled, many of the old leaders proved incapable of providing either guidance or reassurance. In that novel, Randy Bragg was forced to step into this vacuum. Even as the old ways were no longer possible, new conditions opened the door to positive alternatives. In doing so, he transformed himself into a man far superior to the old model.
That was just a book, although somewhat prescient. Today, the Covid-19 pandemic brings death and economic devastation around the world. We cannot yet predict the amount of damage and, indeed, we are far from being through even the initial spread of infection. However, the pandemic also delivers an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to review and perhaps reject various aspects of our old life. This is a remarkably valuable gift, this ability to consciously cull out the negatives, the inefficient, and the misdirected. Maybe we can use this period of isolation as an incubator for reinvention. Let me insert a short excerpt from my book China Bound:
Sometimes, such isolation is highly therapeutic. The only time we are truly free is when we are completely alone. Being alone means we do not have to be distracted by concerns about appearances or impressions, interacting with others (communications, different values, different styles, and privacy issues), or with division of labor and agreeing upon tasks. Or interruptions.
As Gordon MacQuarrie wrote,
When a man is alone, he gets things done. So many men, alone … get along with themselves because it takes most of their time to do for themselves. No dallying over division of labor, no hesitancy at tackling a job.
There is much to be said on behalf of the solitary way …. It lets people get acquainted with themselves. Do not feel sorry for the man on his own. If he is one who plunges into all sorts of work, if he does not dawdle, if he does not dwell upon his aloneness, he will get many things done and have a fine time doing them.
More Words of wisdom from Wisconsin:
1) Expect a “slow thaw”. Regardless of how fervently we want an overnight return to “normal”, it ain’t gonna happen. Better, instead, to prepare for a gradual approach to the New Normal – after we get through the crisis phase.
2) Pride goeth before the fall… and, right after fall, you get a long, hard winter. Denial is not a good defense against Covid-19. For those who relied upon hoping something wouldn’t happen rather than active preparation, the consequences will be terrible.
Currently, millions of people have such aloneness and opportunity. Indeed, in the coming years, some people will look back at this period as a positive turning point in their life, an awakening to their potential. The isolation will be seen as the impetus to step out in a completely new direction. As the old ways are irretrievably gone, we are forced to explore new methods, new routines, new relationships. It is not a requirement but, for some, this will also be the spur for finding a new location. As George MacDonald Fraser’s famous character, Harry Flashman, noted, war gives some people who never had a purpose something to focus on. For the first time in their life, they have a direction, a mission. Leaders emerge from the fragments of the shattered lives and, like Randy Bragg, they are harder, leaner, and more decisive as they develop vision and skills that were previously only latent because they were not necessary.
What will you do with this opportunity? What is the silver lining in your cloud? What will be your first step to achieve the new life that is available to you because of this seismic shift in our world? As you emerge from the chaos and destruction of this period, you can make new choices, see the world differently. Hint: In a few decades, what would you like your grandchildren to say about you?
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对于国际读者，请允许我解释一下。我的城市重庆，通常简称为CQ，发音为Chong Ching，与 “错环 “押韵。重庆是中国中南部一个拥有三千万人口的大城市，位于长江三峡大坝附近的长江边上。
我母亲总是说，”事情会有最好的结果的。” 还有，”每一朵云都有一线生机”。而 “天亮前总是最黑的时候”。作为一个年轻人，当我的问题和困惑似乎压得我喘不过气来的时候，这让我很放心。作为一个年轻的成年人，当我遇到困难–和困难的人时，我看到了乐观的观点的价值。现在，在我的，呃，成熟的时候，我对母亲的老眼光有了不同的诠释。随着我的新的、年龄增强了的启蒙，我把它看成是每一个悲剧都蕴含着重塑偏离轨道的人生的机会，甚至是危险的功能失调。
在我最喜欢的书之一–也是许多科幻文学课的必读书目–帕特-弗兰克的《唉，巴比伦》中，主人公要面对核大爆炸以及接下来的几周几月的生活。在这样做的过程中，主人公变得更加坚韧、精干、果断，他表现出了以前只能潜伏的领导能力。在许多方面，兰迪-布拉格，在他以前的生活中，体现了现代的趋势，把事情简单化，主要是考虑到方便和避免对抗，沉湎于他的生物安慰…… 包括早上喝咖啡时喝几口波本威士忌。但当炸弹落下时，他所享受的生活水平已经不可能再有了。随着整个地区被烧毁，基础设施崩溃， 许多老领导人都无法提供指导或保证。在那本小说中，兰迪-布拉格被迫踏上了这个真空地带。即使旧的方式不再可能，新的条件也为他打开了积极的替代方案的大门。 在这样做时，他把自己变成了一个远超旧模式的人。
有时候，这样的孤独是有很大的治疗作用的。 只有当我们完全独处的时候，我们才是真正自由的时候。 独处意味着我们不必因为担心外貌或印象的问题、与他人互动（沟通、不同的价值观、不同的风格和隐私问题）、分工和商定任务而分心。 或者说是中断。
男人一个人的时候，就能把事情办好。 所以，很多男人，一个人………..和自己相处，因为大部分时间都是为自己做的。 没有在分工上的磨蹭，没有在处理工作上的犹豫不决。
孤独的方式有很多值得一提的是…..。 它让人们认识了自己。 不要为自己的人感到惋惜。 如果他是一个投入到各种工作中的人，如果他不磨磨蹭，不纠结于自己的孤独，那么他就会做很多事情，而且做得很好。
1) 期待 “缓慢解冻”。无论我们多么热切地希望一夜之间恢复 “正常”，但这是不会发生的。相反，最好的办法是在我们渡过危机阶段后，准备逐渐走向新常态。