COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief some differences between people. Some of us are willing to limit our interactions with other people because, in our opinion, going to the cinema, or having our hair cut, is not important enough to risk long-term disease, or causing the death of others.
I think that bears repeating. If you are taking unnecessary risks during this pandemic, you are taking this risk on behalf of others. If this pandemic had been responded to appropriately, it would be over by now. Every risk any of us take, that is not really necessary, is a risk we are taking for other people.
But it occurred to me and my wife, yesterday, that perhaps there is something more fundamental behind some people’s willingness to forgo normality. Why are some people unable to give up smoking? Why are some unable to sit still long enough to read a book? Why can some adults sit on the floor, and play an apparently boring game for hours on end with a child?
I think all these questions might come down to patience. We all know that waiting in a queue is boring, but we are willing to queue for different lengths of time depending upon the reward. So if my petrol tank (“gasoline tank” in the USA) is only half empty, I will not wait in a petrol station (“gas station” in the USA) for even a few moments. But if my car is almost empty, I will definitely wait a bit to fill it up.
Similarly, if I am in a queue (“a line” in the USA) for a roller coaster, I will wait a lot longer than I might to check out at a supermarket.
I am coeliac (“celiac” in the USA) and I was diagnosed before I was aware of it. As I said in a previous post, I think this has had an effect on my behavior. In the context of COVID-19, I think I have learned to forgo what I might want in the short-term, for what is important in the medium- or long-term. I have witnessed the same from Type 1 Diabetes sufferers. Like me, they have lived most of their life with this limitation, and they have gotten used to it.
For those who have a limitation that they can cheat with (or they think they can cheat with) they might go through one of the following rationalizations:
- I know how I feel if I have a slice of pizza, and to me it’s worth it
- Stress will make me more ill, so I should have that slice of pizza for my health *
- I just cannot be bothered to stick to this food diet any more
Being bored of COVID-19’s limitations on life is probably an appropriate response – it would be weird if you did not miss anything about socializing. But even though it’s an appropriate emotion, it’s not appropriate to act on that by going to the cinema, visiting friends indoors, or not wearing a mask.
Research conducted in 2020 has shown that we humans get bored of ever-present risks, and stop measuring them appropriately in our heads. I know this is true on a personal level. So remember that this disease is killing people – not just killing people directly, but also filling up hospital beds in cities like New York and Los Angeles so that people do not get the care they would otherwise get.
Surrender your preferences to your long-term interests. Surrender your boredom to your neighbor’s long-term interests. Be patient. This will end, and life will return to normal.
But I might carry on wearing a mask – because being sick sucks.
The myth about stress
Incidentally, it has been learned that stress is not bad at all, so long as you recognize that it exists and why. It is the attempt to suppress stress that is the dangerous thing: Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend | TED Talk