Daily news reports of mounting cases and deaths from COVID-19 are good reasons to fear for our health, our families, our businesses, and our economy. If that is how you are feeling right now, you are in good company. It is rational to experience fear and anxiety at a time like this.
I believe some fear can be very healthy, like the fear I have to not step in front of a speeding car on the highway. It’s more like a healthy respect for the deadly power of a car. I respect the danger and look both ways before I cross the road or stay on the sidewalk.
So how do we turn our fear about the pandemic into a force… for good?
First, Be intentional about your self-care & mental health choices. Turn off the news, watch a funny movie, listen to inspirational music, spend time in meditation and prayer, spend time with your family, exercise, or read a good book.
Secondly, if you can, embrace this as a rare opportunity to see your life differently and become a force for good: for yourself, for your family, for your business or profession, or for the world.
Quarantine conditions and isolation have historically created some of the great gifts for our world:
As a young man in his 20’s, Isaac Newton was sent home from Trinity College, Cambridge University, for a year due to the black plague of 1665-66 during which a quarter of London’s population perished. As a college student without a tutor, he spent his idle hours at home writing papers that became our early calculus. Instead of watching Netflix, he dove deep into his thoughts and formulated theories on light and optics, experimenting with prisms, and began writing his theories on gravity, supposedly while sitting under the apple tree outside his window (He was bored in his isolation, no doubt!). He later referred to that year as his annus mirabilis, the “year of wonders.” See: The Washington Post article, March 12, 2020.
The Bard, William Shakespeare, was born in 1564 during an episode of the bubonic plague. Successive plagues in his lifetime forced the closure of the Globe Theater in London, such as in 1592-93, when at least 15,000 people died of plague within the City of London, and another 4,900 in surrounding parishes. Shakespeare retreated to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he settled in at his writing desk and penned the following: “Henry VI, Part 2 and 3,” “Richard III,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Titus Andronicus,” and “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Another plague hit London in 1603-4 when one in five Londoners died. Shakespeare is thought to have written, “Measure for Measure” during that break. Then, in 1606, Shakespeare’s “King Lear” had its first performance following a plague’s onslaught, and so it is thought that he wrote it during the height of scourge. (The New York Times, “What Shakespeare Teaches Us About Living With Pandemics,” March 28, 2020)
THE APOSTLE PAUL, APOSTLE JOHN, AND MARTIN LUTHER
From the world of Christianity, the Apostle Paul wrote most of his letters, which comprise much of the New Testament of the Bible, from a prison cell in Rome. He wrote his great letter of encouragement, and inspiration to find joy in all circumstances, to the Philippians in about AD 61, while he himself was facing a grim future. The Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation around AD 95, while in exile on the island of Patmos. The protestant reformer, Martin Luther, wrote his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” when sequestered for his own safety, in October, 1527, at the time of the plague in Germany.
The Jewish scriptures tell us the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and unjustly imprisoned for more than two years. The time in prison prepared him with humility, empathy, and faith for when Pharaoh appointed him Prime Minister of Egypt. Joseph concluded his slavery and imprisonment by saying to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God meant it for good…” Genesis 50:20.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa in 1964 where he spent the next 27 years. When my son and I stood in his tiny prison cell on Robben Island, I learned that he told the arriving prisoners that Robben Island was to be their “university” where they would become prepared to someday lead their nation to freedom. He said, that the prison on Robben Island “became a crucible which transformed him.” In his book, “Long Walk to Freedom,” he wrote, “Prison itself is a tremendous education in the need for patience and perseverance. It is above all a test of one’s commitment.”
There are many more examples, but hopefully this list is enough to pique your interest and open up a new way to regard your ‘boredom’ What you once considered a prison sentence sequestered at home, might now be viewed as a rare opportunity to stop and re-evaluate your life, make changes, and perhaps even become a force for good; for your family, for your business or profession, or for the world.
This is not to discount the magnitude of what we are facing with the novel coronavirus or to trivialize it in any way. Certainly, the next few weeks are going to be difficult for all of us as new cases are counted and we face the potential of losing beloved members of our families and our friends. We are helpless in the face of an invisible enemy, and that lack of control feeds our most basic fears. At the same time, the lack of control is a good reason to put our fears aside when we can, and give attention to what we can control, namely, ourselves.
Transformative sabbaticals have presented opportunities for me throughout my life. For instance, when I broke my back in a plane crash in 1974 and for a short time was paralyzed, followed by multiple surgeries, three months in the hospital, and nine months in a body cast. Certainly, this was a fearful time for me and my family not knowing if I would ever walk again. I spent endless hours in bed recovering, and that time proved to be a gift. I developed a new empathy for others with handicaps and limitations. I may be one of the only real estate developers who hasn’t gripped about handicap codes! I certainly learned to never take mobility for granted.
Years later, in another transformative sabbatical, I suffered severe headaches that resulted in a diagnosis of a “brain tumor.” The tumor was not there, but the headaches sent me on a path of self-discovery and transformation, and a three month sabbatical that turned into three years! The lessons I learned resulted in my hosting ongoing Exploring Personal Greatness men’s retreats and transformative Forums. I realized that many men felt stuck in different areas of their lives and relationships. I knew I could help them through my experiences.
In those times, I was inspired by the Lord’s encouragement to Joshua as he faced the fearsome battles ahead before entering into the Promised Land: “Be strong and courageous. Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
WHAT’S NEW IN THIS PANDEMIC?
During this pandemic, I am hearing of new businesses being created as well as the discovery for all of us of new ways of doing business. In one case, my friends and business colleagues, Brian Landry and Emery Whalen of QED Hospitality, are transforming hospitality restaurant workers into telehealth medicine trainers in New Orleans. You can see their story in Nola.com, March 30, 2020.
During times of crises, new inventions are made, new ways of doing business emerge, new ways of living our lives are discovered.
While I started out this blog by talking about boredom, the truth is that I’ve been busy. To keep my business going, I’m having to learn some new tricks:
- I’m running the Allen Morris Company on Zoom, WhatsApp, and Microsoft Teams.
- I’m learning to do things better: I’m delegating more to my capable executives and teammates, and learning how to be more efficient with my technology.
- I’m writing my next book, which I hope will be an encouragement to men in their journey to more deeply understand themselves on their path to becoming superior men.
How can you use this opportunity?
What can you create?
What can you improve?
Yourself? Your family? Your business?
Are you the next Newton, Shakespeare, or Mandela? Why not!