Downtowns are turning into ghost towns as people take shelter in their homes to avoid the risk of spreading coronavirus.
Students are doing coursework online. Therapists are using telehealth to meet with clients. Architects are videoconferencing with clients from the comfort or clutter of their dining room.
Without planning for it, we have become a network of virtual communities leaving our downtowns as quiet as if we'd all paused for a moment of silence that has lasted weeks that feel like months.
As our collective attention turns toward trying to help slow the spread of the virus by heeding the advice of experts, many of us have tried to set up shop at home. As we do so, we often find ourselves without the same small luxuries we took for granted at the office.
When we needed paper to fill the printer, it was there ready for us to grab. The same goes for notepads, pens, paper clips, staples, hand sanitizer, and, what I find myself using more of than ever, Post-It notes. The handwritten reminders posted to the rim of my computer monitor to remind me of things not to forget during a videoconference are now layered several deep.
As we are consumed by larger concerns over loved ones living in nursing homes and assisted living centers whom we cannot embrace right now because of cautious visitation policies or even more so over the growing number of people who have contracted the virus, we also find ourselves consumed by lesser, yet still important concerns.
Will our toddlers be OK when we need to steal away to take a business call? Will we and our neighbors be able to make it to the grocery store or to find a delivery service to make sure we can put food on the table? Will we be able to get a care package of home-baked goods mailed to our college student stranded in his off-campus apartment or to our service member on the base?
In light of the gravity of our current public health crisis, worrying about the small stuff can feel irrelevant, even petty. But as we continue to try to carry on as if everything were normal, the small stuff creeps in. Perhaps it does so as a coping mechanism to keep from being consumed by so much we don't know about how all of this will play out.
We worry whether we'll get in trouble with our boss because we took the bottle of hand sanitizer home from our for-now shuttered office knowing it would be difficult to find some to purchase. We worry about whether we should put more time into looking more professional for an upcoming video call. We grow concerned that we are not doing enough to keep our school-age child up to date with her homework. We just worry.
It's OK to worry. But when we've all been called on to radically adjust to our daily personal and professional lives in an effort to stave off the potentially devastating effects of a disease we don't yet fully understand, the right thing is for each of us to give ourselves and others a little break.
If we're all doing our small part to try to help repair the world (Tikkun Olam and all that), we can afford for now to forgive ourselves for some of the smaller stuff.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2020 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
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