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How the current crisis can help us to rediscover ourselves – and redefine our future  

Yesterday I was walking on a hiking path next to where my wife and I are locked down. I have been using this path for the last eight years and rarely see anyone. In fact this walk is typically reserved for conference calls that I do while walking. Usually the only thing that gets in the way of this beautiful outdoor office is wind in my headset or a horse galloping by. 

Yesterday was very different. The path was full of people to the point where it was a happening place, a strangely super-happy environment with family groups, including small children and grandparents all out walking, and, yes, maintaining the recommended six-foot physical distancing, but just appearing happy to be communing with nature together. I found it to be a pretty incredible experience. In fact I doubled my time on this hike just out of curiosity as to how the parts of the path that are more difficult to navigate were going to be traversed. I couldn’t help but smile and ask myself where all of these people have been for the last eight years. 

Coming off the path and walking up the street, I also saw something I had never before seen in the neighborhood – families, including little tikes on bikes — two of whom whizzed by me laughing while cruising down a hill, with the youngest member of each brood leading the way. I said to myself, “This is amazing — could it really be that all of these people routinely work so much, leaving their kids to be cared for by others that on a typical, normal day, outdoor family activities such as hiking and biking wouldn’t even be possible?” 

On this anything-but-normal day, however, the children’s smiles and laughter proved to be a potent antidote to anxiety. It provided a sense of relief that calmed my own stress about these uncertain times and made me hopeful for the future by showing how people are making the most of their “containment.” It was, if anything an illustration of that adage about making lemonade when life hands you a lemon – in this case, by giving people pause to rediscover the things in their lives that are most important.

This hike also got me thinking about other aspects of the “new normal, and whether the Covid-19 crisis might actually accelerate our transformation to the Digital Age that up to now we have only partially adapted to. I couldn’t help wondering, for example, if a doctor will ever see a patient suffering from a common cold or flu virus in his or her office again. The efficiency of telemedicine is incredible but hadn’t really come into its own until this crisis. 

Keeping people out of hospitals as much as possible is a primary goal right now, of course, and even though we’ve had the technology to do so for over 10 years, it hasn’t been really utilized to anywhere near its potential. It’s called Remote Patient Monitoring or RPM, and I imagine going forward that it will be the new normal for anyone that has an underlying health condition, allowing their home, in effect, to become their hospital (in most cases, a far more comfortable and comforting environment for those not requiring critical care). 

Even the lineup of cars for testing is a tool that in my opinion will stay with us. I checked out the testing process peeking through the cones last week and found it to be very efficient and something that again could well become the new norm in diagnosing many common infections.

By the same token, will Zoom, Skype and FaceTime become the new custom for conducting meetings and connecting with loved ones? (I know many of us have used these technologies for years, but many more haven’t until this moment in time.)

The other digital transition that I believe may suddenly gain momentum is one that has actually been around for quite a while, but which I personally had never experienced until last week. Yep, I am now officially a student at Harvard Online, having taken my first class, which I found incredibly stimulating and recommend to anyone who wants to further their education from the comfort of their home. The courses offered by Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League schools are currently free, and the one I am taking is really well done.

All that is not to be a Pollyanna or to underestimate the extent of the trauma, anxiety and loss that many families are now suffering. But it is to inject a note of optimism that once the sense of doom and gloom is dispelled (as it will be), the period of fear, uncertainty and disruption into which we’ve suddenly been plunged will also end up having some really positive impacts on our society. And from what I’ve witnessed, it’s already started.

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