Can an epidemic make us better people?
For those of us who are happy to be out of last year, there are many reasons to be physically, mentally, and financially grateful. Theoretically, we could use this experience to become more thoughtful, deliberate, less judgmental, and responsive. We could have appreciated more or criticized less. In short, we could be more beautiful.
Throughout the epidemic, we felt good about celebrating good employees, boosting local businesses, valuing what we had, all shedding light on our better angels. A year ago, Kelly Ripa told The Washington Post: “I think we will all be better at it,” because “we are all less satisfied.”
But if history’s science is a guide, then this altruism probably will not work. We will probably leave it behind as soon as possible, end up in life, leaving, crossing borders. If anything, we are probably less interested in what other people think. Carpe diem, baby.
Dorothy Paredes, a 42-year-old Austin resident, has been living with cancer for the past 15 years. The epidemic did not change him significantly. If anything, it made me more determined to taste it every day. “It made me say, ‘Life is short.’ “Anything can happen – cancer, throat, whatever,” he said. “Why are we waiting? Why are we restraining? ”
If the past is a prelude, then the deadly flu epidemic of 1918 և 1919 should help us understand how we navigate the post-Earth years. “I think it’s fair to say that people want to forget as soon as possible,” said Laura Spinny, Pale Pale Rider. Author of The Spanish Flu 1919 and How It Changed the World. “It simply came to our notice then. If you talk to public health professionals, they talk about the fact that we are going through this cycle of panic and complacency. We panic when the epidemic declares itself and then forget about it as soon as it is over. ”
There are more than 170,000 World War I monuments in France, where he lives. They were built in the 1920s and 1930s, reminding of the millions who died everywhere. But he could not find a single monument to the 1918 epidemic in the country, although it killed more than 50 million to 100 million people worldwide, according to estimates.
How to explain such a discrepancy? Spinni explains that people give meaning to life through persuasive stories. That is why some events are recorded in our historical memory, while others are not. The war gives itself to great novels, poetry and films. It has good և evil, a clearer beginning, a middle և end – all the components of human drama. The pandemic is more difficult to understand, it contradicts simple stories. Spinny says another factor. “Wars destroy people, they destroy infrastructure. “Avoiding war takes much longer than an epidemic that only kills people.”
Historians believed that The Roaring Twentieth was a return from the Great War, but some scholars now consider the epidemic to be just as important a factor in the haste to conquer the day, consciously or not, against fear and death. The emphasis was not on introspotation, but on experimentation. The flu of 1918 did indeed initiate a number of public health reforms, but was rarely discussed outside of science.
There is a possibility that the 2020 epidemic may be different. “Infectious diseases were the main killers of mankind in 1918,” says Spinny, even in 1918. Before the flu epidemic. “Since then, they have been plagued by chronic diseases of old age. So it’s a big change for us to think about how our lives will end և what are our biggest vulnerabilities? We are much more obsessed with Alzheimer’s than with measles. And you can see that in the vaccine movement. ” We may remember the coronavirus more because it is very different from the diseases that usually kill Americans.
Another factor that can help with this epidemic is the tendency to be forgetful: computers.
“Anyone in the world with access to the Internet could, if they were so prone, look at infection levels and mortality almost in real time from the beginning of this real epidemic,” Spin said. “From the very beginning, we perceived it as a global phenomenon, at least to a much greater extent than in 1918. »: In other words. We all have a story this time.
Pennsylvania State University historian Ran Wigenberg studies Holocaust survivors, the victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Holocaust survivors struggled to overcome a terrible past. Survivors of Hiroshima had to live with the continuing injuries of an uncertain future. “Rad radiation remained in the bodies,” said Wigenberg. “They did not know they were going to get sick. And every time they caught a cold, they said, “Is this it?”
What did they have in common? “In general, most people, if they could, tended to embrace life. Not hedonism, but family. Build a future to have children. Many of them turned inward. ” Those who applied from abroad accepted the activity, proving that they give some purpose to what happened to them. And some, of course, were irreversibly broken. The only constant was learning to live constantly, with the sad feeling that the world is an uncertain place.
It is still difficult to draw definitive conclusions about how these experiences affect people. “Suffering cannot be measured,” said Wigenberg.
Paredes և Iram Leon, a founding member of the Texas Cancer Survivors Coalition, has lived in fear for years. Paredes was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 26 years old, and in stage 3, ovarian cancer at the age of 36, and then again two years later. Leon, 40, had rare brain cancers when he was 30 and was given a 12 percent chance of surviving for ten years.
“It always is, ‘When will this happen?’ “Not if,” Paredes said. “My view has changed. It became about the schedule, the dates. “Everything seemed very urgent.”
Leon said he focused on his young daughter’s close friends, but stopped building new relationships. And everything became the “last” time when he would do something. “You are doing some things, but I have lost all prospects for the future. “My friend was talking about my daughter graduating from high school. She is now 14 years old. I realized I had not thought about it for four years before I was 29.”
Cancer has not changed their basic personality. Leon thinks it can soften his rough edges. Paredes said it made him a little less patient with people who complained of minor irritations in life. And, in many ways, the epidemic reinforced the sense of urgency, both of which were already felt.
There is a possible difference between living with extreme trauma or a life-threatening illness, “living with the possibility of getting sick.” But for most Americans, this past year was the first time they had faced death on a daily basis. The virus has come out of our TVs, computer screens, social media accounts, intensifying every fear, second guessing every choice. The instinct to act on the future instead of talking about the past is very understandable, very human.
However, coming back to life can also be short-sighted, Leon said. “The problem with ‘Day Seizure’ is that it reduces your study time. If you think that everything is your last chance, you do not really pay attention to what you have to learn next time. “Because you do not think it will happen next time.”
In early April, the New York Times published a story that said, “After the epidemic, you can be a different person” with some concerted effort that the epidemic could offer to try. This caused a stir among social media users, who posted the caption along with a photo of the image forming from one character to another.
Even if we tend to use this time as an opportunity for self-improvement, it is difficult to know whether or how a pandemic may affect us now or in the years to come.
Webbke Blydorn և Chris Hopwood are psychologists at the University of California, Davis who study how individuals evolve and change. For behavioral scientists, the epidemic, along with other historical events of 2020, “is a wonderful opportunity because it is a major event in life over which we had no control, it just happened to us,” Blaidorn said.
Of course, how each individual responds depends on how they have felt over the past year, Hopwood said. He has avoided the tragic consequences of the epidemic, eagerly awaiting his return to the world, but “other people who have been at the forefront of health care, or who are African-Americans overcoming the power of life,” or who have lost loved ones or something. in families where there are real political divisions. “They can really have a lasting negative impact on this epidemic.”
How does this change the personality is another matter. Theoretically, there is a possibility of positive transformation. Changing habits over time can lead to lasting changes in perspective. There is still a high bar that scientists consider to be a constant change. “A change in behavior that is not related to a change in thinking or feeling about you does not really count from our point of view,” Hopwood said.
In addition, Blaidorn said that most people start with what scientists call a “defined point.” : A set of behaviors that fluctuate in response to specific life events. People usually grow: mature, but usually return to their essential nature.
This does not mean that we can not try to be better.
As a college professor once said to Leon: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You do not have time to prepare everything yourself. ”