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Truth and Consequences, and Words in a Time of Worry

March 11, 2020

Truth and consequences. Wherever you stand on how our government has responded to the evolving Coronavirus threat, there’s, I think, little question that the rhetoric—and the reality—is escalating. A word that only weeks ago we’d never heard before. Now controlling our every move and reaction. Plans postponed or canceled. Debating the merits of keeping schools open, where so many children rely on getting their daily meals, or close them to slow transmission. Travel and tourism in freefall. The economy is sliding at rates that cause us all alarm. Even if you don’t personally have a large stake in investments, that bright red line trending dramatically down is sobering. 

 

What will happen? Humans are nothing if not terrible prognosticators. We can look at the history of things, and try to model and predict based on what came before. But we’re notoriously poor at adapting future behavior based on prior knowledge. Fear, today and likely tomorrow, is governing.

 

Reactions are mixed. We try to keep our normal routines. We look ahead to travel in the coming months, hoping the threat will have waned. Maybe, just maybe, we comfort ourselves with cupcakes. And family and friendship. We always comfort ourselves best alongside the ones we love. 

 

Ideally, now, we should be getting clean, accurate information. We know the World Health Organization has officially designated Coronavirus a global pandemic. We clamor for news, but what are the consequences when the truth makes us want to curl up into little balls of worry? How do you manage the communications and messaging in a scenario like this?

 

I’ve received many emails from airlines, financial institutions, and other businesses offering a cautioning and calming word. Through social media, I see friends in Italy, which is currently on lockdown, waiting in patient lines at the grocery, wearing rubber gloves to shop. I understand this morning’s queue at a local market outside Florence was unrushed, and shoppers bided time with idle chitchat and camaraderie. Maybe we will be able to absorb bits of a new normal. Maybe we will understand that corrective measures do correct. Maybe we will treat each other with kindness and not selfishly hoard cleaning supplies—the efficacy and necessity of which are questionable anyhow.

 

Deep breathing helps. Slow moments of ritual. 

 

The words we are hearing from our public officials now should be truthful, and direct, but solutions-oriented. Let us know the magnitude of what’s going on, because otherwise we can’t react appropriately, but communicate in a way that makes us feel like the situation is being managed. Tell us the best minds are working on the problem. Tell us, even if it’s equally as much to convince themselves, that all will be well, that we’ll get through this together. Acknowledge that the immediate consequences of this truth-telling may be to generate further worry and fear. Tell us how we can help be part of the fix. Anger and blame have no productive part in this game. Obfuscation should be off-limits. We are oversaturated and it’s hard to know what source to trust. Clear communication from reliable people whose only agenda is truth, not votes or dollars, and who only intend ultimately beneficial consequences. That’s the messaging I want to receive. 

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