Hey everybody! So, this month has been different, hasn’t it? I was supposed to be in seven cities and two different countries this April, and instead I’m doing….well, not that. Also, my daughter’s 1st birthday is in about two weeks, and we have all the decorations you’d need for three birthdays – but since nobody can come over, I think we’ll just go all out and have a huge fancy blowout with just the four of us. At least I’ll get plenty of cake!
So things aren’t exactly going as I (or anyone else on the entire planet) had planned, right? I feel compelled to mention that I was one of the millions of people who thought this whole thing was massively overblown. I did not understand why some people were making a big deal out of it, I was completely baffled when Italy shut down, and I had no idea that we would be next. I am also positive that I said so in no uncertain terms to my friends and family, and probably more than a few strangers as well. In retrospect, I was a moron.
I thought that I knew more than I did. I could certainly benefit from waiting to form my “of course I’m right” opinions until I have enough information to actually know what I’m talking about. It is a lesson that I am periodically reminded I still need to learn, and I hope someday I eventually do.
What I’ve become interested in is why I thought what I did. Why was I so quick to dismiss such a grave threat as a baffling case of mass hysteria? I have a tendency not to worry about things as much as others seem to – but in this case even my wife, who worries more often about more things than I do, also thought this was nothing to be concerned about. Was there something else?
Ultimately I think so. The evolution of our reaction to the coronavirus shows more clearly than anything else I can think of the power of messaging. Because the first thing I heard about this virus – and the second, and the third, and the fifteenth and twentieth – went something like this:
There’s a new virus out there. It’s a lot like the flu, and it only affects people over 65 who have some kind of pre-existing condition.
That’s what I heard, and it formed what I thought. I’ve never worried about getting the flu, I’m not over 65, and I have no pre-existing conditions. So I didn’t worry about it, and I thought we were slowly going crazy as people started worrying about something no more serious than a disease that’s been around for centuries (the flu) that most of us don’t even bother to get a vaccine for.
And then the message started to change, and this is what I starting hearing over and over and over again.
There’s a new disease out there. It’s a lot like the flu, except it takes longer to recover from and requires some specialized equipment. And if too many people get it all at once, they will overwhelm our hospitals’ ability to care for them – which means anybody who needs a doctor for anything might not be able to get the treatment they would otherwise be able to get.
Once that message became properly established, our collective behavior changed immediately. My wife started working from home before her company required her to. My speaking events got postponed or cancelled long before states shut everything down. We pulled our kids out of daycare early, and the primary reason for that was because there had been a case of strep throat and we didn’t want to risk our children getting anything at all if it might not be possible to take them to a doctor.
The point is, there are a lot of ways to say the same thing. How you choose to frame your argument or policy or new idea will have a huuuuuge impact on how others receive it.
I hope you’re well and currently spending time with people you mostly like.