What markers will the COVID-19 crisis leave on society?
As with Sept. 11 and the financial crisis of 2008, behavioral experts believe COVID-19 will leave a psychological or emotional marker. And those markers will predict how we will act for weeks, years, decades, or in some cases, the rest of our lives.
My dad, now 92 years old, still displays instincts rooted in him during the Great Depression. No matter how successful he may be at any point in his life, he remains cautious with money and fiercely debt averse, and he tends to hold onto random items he might need one day.
Having lived with nothing and knowing first-hand the feeling of uncertainty of what tomorrow holds – the most significant shared event in his lifetime – formed how his mind processes his decisions to this day.
My dad once bought a belt, absent a buckle, for $4.
Holding the brown strip up to him, I asked him why he would spend money on something he could not use.
“It is a quality piece of material,” he said. “I’m sure I have an old buckle on a worn-out belt around here I can figure out how to put on it.”
His delivery was as flat as if he was explaining to me which horizon the sun would rise on the next morning.
Decades of comfort will never change my dad’s mindset of what the raw feeling of having nothing is.
So with COVID-19 impacting our society, what markers will become imbedded into our collective and individual psyches going forward?
To this day, Sept. 11 always revisits our minds when we board a plane or see an unattended bag beneath a bench. And following the financial crisis of 2008, over-the-top displays of wealth were no longer viewed with admiration, but rather as insensitive and out of touch.
So what will COVID-19 leave behind — or more accurately — what will it leave to accompany us into the future?
Experts say it takes two weeks of behavior to form hold in our minds. So what will our new patterns of social distancing, working remotely or learning to not run to the store every day do to us? Will we ever feel the same about shaking hands with a stranger or offering a hug to someone in pain we barely know? Will we ever feel comfortable sitting in a seat next to a stranger at the movie theater or in the tightly clustered seats of an airplane?
Some emotional markers will fade. Others, like my dad’s childhood, remain close to the surface, hiding around the corner whenever he makes a decision. The question is, which ones will we take forward and for how long?
There are a few changes I hope people take away from this COVID-19 crisis. I see more people outside walking and more children playing in yards. I also see people checking in on family and friends. And if anything, we are learning to slow down a bit and be less obsessed with consumption and self-aggrandizing behavior on social media.
But as for me buying belts without buckles, I’ll keep you posted.