“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”
Commencement exercises are still quite far off, but lately I have thinking a lot about what I have learned during the past year while attending the “Global COVID Pandemic” immersion course, that master class in which the whole world quite unintentionally was enrolled. It’s ever-lengthening syllabus continues to challenge its students; even the near impossible task of keeping track of the course material alone provides a ton of homework. A COVID surge is either over or again on the way, infection rates are either rising or falling, and vaccinations either will or will not be effective against novel virus variants, depending on what you read.
The intensity of the virus spread seems, in some locations, to be slowing down. While this is the news we have all been waiting for, no one is in any position to rip of their mask, toss the hand sanitizer and start making out with random strangers. Presumably, most of us (minus the Spring Break crowd) have learned that such behaviors can lead to far reaching complications. Still we are ready to move on, to find a way to somehow at least enjoy summer, take a break from the tiresomeness of our studies. But how do we process what we’ve learned in the past year and make sense of life during COVID College? Everyone’s take away is different, but my course summary on a few of the more impactful teachings would read as follows:
- COVID put a magnifying glass on serious problems our country was already facing
As Melinda Gates pointed out, “This pandemic has magnified every existing inequality in our society- like systematic racism, gender inequality and poverty.” Fear and anger, both intensified by the pandemic, continue to fuel people’s strong reactions to our government’s inability to grapple with these enormous challenges and lead the way toward meaningful change, most urgently in how equity and wealth are distributed to its people. Suffering from lack of resources is not just reserved for people either. Environmental challenges are another alarming problem we face all over the world. The great slow-down of the past year was a catalyst for marked improvement in the quality of our air and water, creating a major silver lining out of pandemic induced behavioral change. The challenge now will be figuring out how we may quickly capitalize on any realized gains in the state of the environment, and so far we are only sure of the great chasm between the idea of change and change itself.
As shocking as it might have been to the Fortune 500, Corporate America can now and did still profit in 2020 in a variety of ways, but most notably without having to tether office employees to their onsite desks for most of their waking hours (Melissa Mayer must be appalled). Seemingly, only an event as drastic as the pandemic could wrench away the masses of individuals toiling in-office at their jobs from the clutches of their corporate task masters. The 9 to 5 workday clock (which BTW, evolved sometime in the 1980s into a standard 8 to 5:30 workday) is closer to becoming obsolete. In reality, with the advent of smart phones the traditional work schedule was already well on its way out the door years ago, as workers became accessible well before and after working hours via the internet to their employers. Simply traveling to work took up greater and greater chunks of people’s time until onsite meetings and corporate travel ground to a screeching halt last year. Another major silver lining of the 2020 Pandemic is that much the workforce got some of its own power back in the form of some much needed flexibility in how individuals now run their lives. At the end of the day, it was more than time for a change anyway.
- People have re-evaluated the quality of their lives and are making changes
A break from a hamster wheel-like existence gave a needed boost to people’s openness to change, as well as an opportunity to rethink what’s important in their lives. While not everyone has experienced positive changes during this stressful time, many people have also reported discovering their own silver linings. A friend and single mother, who worked overtime for years in order to provide for her 3 daughters, realized that even though her girls had grown and were less financially dependent on her, she was still putting in so many hours that she had very little work-life balance. Several weeks into the pandemic and the forced change in her work schedule, she realized she could work less, enjoy her life more and still pay the bills. She tells me she is grateful for the chance to realize this about her life and is happier than she’s ever been.
- Personal Lessons Were Also Learned
On a personal level, I learned some interesting things about my family during COVID. I realized that I still actually really enjoy my husband’s company. Good thing, because for months on end he was all the entertainment I had. I discovered that my daughter is thankfully a pretty resilient kid. As my readers know, I was worried about how prepared she was for college life even before the pandemic came along to further complicate her experience. Turns out two-thirds of the way through her first year, she’s made new friends, loves life on campus and is excelling in her studies. Me? I’ve learned that spending time with the people I love and who lift me up is most important to my happiness and well-being. Most importantly, I’ve realized that it’s about time I more actively contributed to helping solve the problems our world is facing. My goal is figure out how to help and take action, and am hoping others will too. The day all people fight not each other but come together for a better future may prove to be the greatest silver lining of them all.