Will We Have the Courage to Change?

I’ve been thinking about what life will be like post-COVID-19. This has been a challenging time for all of us, and because we are social creatures of habit, making drastic changes in how we live day-to-day during this lockdown has been difficult.

For myself, part of the older generation that is most impacted by this virus, staying at home has now become a way of life. Although we are both retired, my husband and I continued to have a schedule with appointments, luncheons, the gym, meetings, and other activities which kept us busy. It’s a bit strange to see “No more events. Your day is clear” every day when I put my watch on in the morning. This stay-at-home order means planning what we need so I can go to the market once a week instead of every day or every-other-day like I often did pre-pandemic. It means going for walks twice a day if the weather is nice: once with Randy (who now appreciates walking) and once with Iwak. It means more hand washing and keeping sanitizing wipes in my purse. It means calling my 92-year-old mom to make sure she is okay and checking in more often with our son and grandsons who live on the mainland.  It means physical distancing and wearing a mask when we go shopping to ensure others’ safety as well as ours. It means keeping up with the latest news on COVID-19 but turning to a different TV station when the news gets too depressing. It means appreciating that we are doing okay and that we are weathering this silent storm.

But there are times when I think about what will happen when this is all over. Will we just go back to what we were doing before this pandemic disrupted our lives? Or will we use what we are learning now to make major changes?

My parents’ generation lived through the Great Depression as well as World War II. I believe it is why they were resourceful throughout their lives. They saved for a rainy day, and they only spent what they could afford, choosing to go without rather than go into debt. Today’s generation is different. Things are so accessible to us and we are wasteful, not just with what we purchase but with our time as well. COVID-19 has disrupted our daily lives and gives us a perfect opportunity to reflect and to change what we’re doing to improve our quality of life. And it gives our systems a chance to reinvent itself, too. A proverb states that “Necessity is the mother of invention.” If so, here are some of my thoughts for discussion:

Schools:  Now that buildings are closed, probably for the rest of the school year, educators have had to reinvent how they provide learning opportunities for their students as well as professional development and collaborative opportunities for their staff. By using virtual tools such as videoconferencing, online classrooms, blogs, videos and tons of other resources that are and have been made available for their use, teachers are expanding their resource library to engage and empower students in their learning. School building closures have brought to light the reality about the important roles that education plays in our communities. Schools are not just places for learning; they also provide students with a sense of safety and continuity; it is where students may learn how to navigate important social-emotional and friendship issues; and schools address health and well-being challenges which may be impeding students’ well-being. The closing of schools has given educators an opportunity to try new ideas. I sincerely hope schools discuss how they can use what they have learned through this unprecedented time to change teaching and learning. Here are a few ideas that educators might consider: blended learning (face-to-face as well as collaborating via technology) for all students; passion projects or project-based learning based on student interests as well as current issues; working on projects across grade levels or with different schools across the state or nation; online classes or internships in the community for high school students where they can work anywhere, anytime and be better-prepared for their future; or employing different ways of assessing student learning such as video portfolios, performances, or presentations to a panel. Schools need to be relevant if we want students and educators to be engaged and empowered; this is a good time to implement new ideas.

Small Businesses: Small businesses have been hit hardest, I believe, during this time of sheltering-in-place, and having government funds for loans is essential. After all, small business owners are crucial partners in our communities. It is heartwarming to see that some businesses are reinventing themselves during this difficult time. For example, restaurants have expanded their take-out services or provide free delivery to customers; we are encouraged to order meals from them. Imagine if restaurants continue this service when they reopen; it is possible that more staff could be hired. This is a great time for businesses to be looking ahead to streamline their operations, to make their products more accessible to the public, to offer their products on-line, or to try something new to bring in customers once they are able to reopen. This can be a time to experiment with an idea on a smaller scale in order to get feedback. Businesses are at the heart of our communities, and now more than ever, they need our support.

Diversifying Our Economy:  Hawaii relies so heavily on our tourism industry. There were over 10.4 million visitors to our state in 2019. While that may be good for the economy, generating income for our state, we cannot rely on tourism to fill our state coffers especially in these times when tourism has literally come to a halt. Tourism means additional cars on the road and spending extra time in our cars, stuck in traffic. (See article.) Without tourists filling our hotel rooms, many workers lose their jobs. We cannot rely only on tourism.  In the past, Hawaii has tried to expand our innovation technology industry via tax credits, and as a result, we saw an increase in startup companies. This pandemic has given us the opportunity to branch out in this area; innovators can explore new methods of testing, or create a new app like one developed by a University of Hawaii professor, or to research possible vaccines for COVID-19.  Another area could be diversifying agriculture; growing our own food is essential since we are an island state and rely on much of our food being imported. Additionally, Hawaii’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045  puts us in the spotlight; we need to continue to move forward on this ambitious goal. If these types of companies are to be successful, it will take support from our government as well as from investors.

Quality of Life:  There is virtually no traffic during this lockdown when only essential workers are commuting to work. Studies in California have indicated that there are fewer traffic jams and less air pollution. In fact, the air in Los Angeles has had the longest period of good air days since 1995. People are working remotely from home and connecting via videoconferencing, emails, texts, phone calls, etc. Perhaps workers could be given the option to come to work for part of the week and work from home the remaining days. It would improve the workers’ quality of life to not spend hours in traffic, and that could mean more time for themselves and/or for their families. Having employees work remotely can also impact traffic with fewer cars on the road. It is an idea that I hope will be offered to employees.

Inequity and Inequality:  This COVID-19 pandemic has clearly identified the inequity and inequality in our country today. Schools realize that many students have no access to WIFI or technology or support from home, and sometimes, older children are expected to care for their younger siblings at home. Meanwhile students in higher income areas or in private schools continue to receive quality educational opportunities. The result could be a widening of the achievement gap when students return to school. Additionally, data shows that minorities are more at-risk to contract and to die from COVID-19; this is a problem that our government must address. Access to quality medical care is an issue for many low-income families or for those who cannot afford to take time off from work to go to the doctor. They are then more susceptible to long-term health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma, issues that put them at-risk for COVID-19. Our government must address issues of income inequality and ensure that even those who cannot afford it will have access to affordable health insurance.

Family Time:  Sheltering-in-place can mean more time for families to spend time together. Photos on social media show parents and children playing board games, working on puzzles, building things, doing art projects, cooking, sewing, and having fun together. As I shared in my book, “Too often, we schedule our kids with multiple activities such as sports or dance or tutoring, leaving us exhausted and running from one activity to the next. This may mean rushing to get dinner started or picking up fast food if it’s getting late. The kids are grouchy because they still have homework to do, and parents are annoyed with the kids for grumbling. Let’s take a deep breath and really reflect on how we’re spending our time.” I hope families realize this gift of time they have been given and learn to prioritize what is really important.

Leadership:  “When things are in turmoil, lead from the front. When things are going well, lead from the back.” We are in turbulent times; no one could have predicted this pandemic and its impact on our world. We need strong leadership to get us through any crisis, leaders who are calm in the face of a crisis, who give us hope that we can get through this together, who are empathetic to our fears, who listen to advice from those who have more knowledge, and who answer questions honestly. As President Truman stated, “The buck stops here.” Leaders know that they have the responsibility to make a decision and accept responsibility for that decision. Now, more than ever, we need strong leadership we can trust. We don’t need a cheerleader in the back of the line; we need someone who will lead us through this turmoil.

My husband Randy says I am a good housemate while we are sheltering-in-place in our home. We know that even after the lockdown is lifted, our behaviors will reflect the new habits that will become our new normal, and I hope that these months of uncertainty will lead to positive changes in our families, our schools, our communities, our state, our nation, and our world.