Kathy & I had friends over last night for a visit and dinner, “social distancing” be darned. We hugged, shook hands, sat in the same room together. It was nice. He is an avid cyclist and nutrition geek, she is a respiratory therapist for a local hospital. Naturally a lot of our conversation revolved around the coronavirus. Four adults having a mature, intelligent and reasoned discussion. But four distinct points of view and varying levels of concern because of our respective temperament, background and outlook.
I won’t get into details of the conversation because it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this post. But suffice it to say that it reinforced for me how our own perspective influences our response to events. This isn’t a news flash, but it seems like the larger the crisis the more it drives and exposes these differences. In many ways our attitudes are driven by where we get our information, if we choose to get information at all. Sometimes the ‘head in the sand with an occasional peek out’ is a sound approach. Sometimes we want to take in everything we can, and then filter out the junk and keep what we want. Usually it ends up being something in between.
I used to joke that every morning I would get up, turn on CNN, and if they weren’t talking about the end of the world I would get dressed and go to work. These days, I get up, look at the New York Times and Washington Post websites, and they are (figuratively) talking about the end of the world. But I get up anyway and go make coffee. And tea for Kathy.
I recently compared the media, meant to include all sources of information – internet, news, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – to walking into a large grocery store. Everything in that store is something that someone wants or needs. But not all of us visit the pet food aisle, or greeting cards or (not us!) the wine section. Most of us visit the dairy section, the frozen food section, the canned goods section, and the meat case. More of us should visit the produce section, but unfortunately most of us head for the junk food. We have to choose, and the choice can be hard. What we buy is influenced by advertising, long held habits and beliefs (like loving or hating spinach or Brussels sprouts), family preferences and diet.
Every section of the store represents a source of nutrition. The quality of that nutrition varies widely from one department to another, but our individual choices determine what goes into our cart. And what goes into our cart affects our diet, which in turn determines our quality of life. The same thing applies to the media. Everything we put into our “information cart” affects our attitudes and outlook, which in turn determines our mental outlook. It determines our truth.
It seems weird to equate groceries to information, but I think the parallels are valid and relevant. Just like we all have our own diets, we also all have our own truth. The cross section in the room last night was ultimately a very narrow one compared with the rest of society as a whole. But it illustrated to me how we all need to take responsibility for the flow of information into our lives, try to find the items that best suit us, and decide what to put into our cart based on our needs and priorities.
Kathy & I have adopted the mantra “day-to day, week-to-week and month-to-month.” Take care of the immediate, think about next week but only worry about next month if you have to. Today at least I feel like we are still on the outside looking in. Like sitting on the beach in the sunshine but knowing that there’s a tsunami headed our way. Our stylist (actually Kathy’s stylist but the person who cuts my hair) called this morning to say that she was closing after Saturday, and would we like to come in today. And we said yes, because who knows what tomorrow or next week will bring. We’re stocked up on food but will still go to the store to buy fresh stuff for as long as we can. I’m cleaning camera gear and stacking up photography books to read. And when the weather warms up, I’ll pressure wash the porch furniture and get ready for summer. All of our travel plans are on hold and we’re keeping our heads down as much as we can. Gas is below $2 a gallon but there’s nowhere to go! Our retirement accounts have lost thousands, but we’re healthy and far from broke. That’s my current truth. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.