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Ring Your Bell

More and more, day by day, the optimist in me is being proven wrong by this virus. I was wrong, it is a big deal and it is impacting life for most everyone. But…I remain adamant that this viral pandemic was overhyped by social and news media to the point of panic everywhere. It is extremely contagious and certainly virulent, but the world has seen all this before. What we didn’t see before was the nearly minute-by-minute death count updated on the TV. What we didn’t see was everyone running out and buying out the entire supply of toilet paper in America – before the virus was even here!! China has a completely unique economic system and a totally different supply system and when toilet paper began to become scare there, for whatever reason, that was hyped throughout the news media, which telegraphed it to social media, and in the blink of an eye, America ran out of toilet paper!

I am considered to be in the higher risk category it seems, being in my 60’s, this despite the fact that I feel more like I am in my 40’s (OK – late 40’s….maybe early 50’s). I can haul my butt through 16 miles of ledges and forests, in the heat of the summer, without bringing water with me. I am not old and I am not feeble. I am not dead yet! But I do fear for my wife, who has asthma. This virus moves to the lungs almost without fail and we are both worried about her catching it. So we’ve changed our lives to better protect her.

We used to go out to eat twice a week, but have not been out in two weeks. We have stopped going to the movies. We used to grocery shop every Tuesday and Friday; we went to the store last Friday but went very early and wiped down every package with disinfectant when unpacked at home. And today, we shopped online and had the groceries brought out to the car – didn’t step foot inside the store – and still wiped them all down once home. I need things at the hardware store but I am hesitant to go, fearful of bringing a stray germ home. All this in spite of the fact that there are only 7 confirmed cases in the whole county of over 500sqmi and a population over 130,000. Life changing.

Fear can, does, dominate rational thought. Security is an illusion – a self-contrived state of mind. You can feel secure, but that is only your mind convincing you that you are. You never know where and how the next great danger will reveal itself, it is impossible to know or predict. So your mind ignores that and focuses on the more tangible here and now – are the doors locked? Is it a “safe” neighborhood? Are the smoke detectors functional? We focus on those sorts of things and ignore the fact that an airplane may drop out of the sky on the house or that a tornado may rip through.

Hellen Keller once said: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

And Kayko Tamaki said: “Security is merely an illusion. If you think your schedule, your botox, your insurance, your marriage certificate, your 401K, and the deadbolt on your door is going to keep you safe from change and the happenings of life—think again. Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing can give you solid ground but your own trust in yourself and the purpose of existing– That is the only solid ground upon which you can stand.”

I could go on, but you see my point – security it is an illusion we drape around ourselves so we can sleep well each night. And this virus has changed all of that, for everyone – not the virus, the sickness itself, but the fear of it. A fear greatly whipped up on news media. Do soap operas still exist? They were a huge daily staple of life in America for decades. But what we all learned was that, if you watched soap operas all day, every day, that you’d become highly emotional, prone to excessive drama, and would be distrustful or even violent. They also created a false illusion of life and a distorted sense of reality. Because like pretty much everything in the world – too much of something is always a bad thing.

Well dear reader, the same with the news. People who watch the news all day long are more paranoid, more nervous, and are more prone to anxiety – even depression. Part of that is because as I just said, too much of anything is a bad thing. But this is especially true with bad news – it pierces the heart and soul and punctures any semblance of security we may have felt. And that is exponentially more true with this virus coverage because not only is there a reason to be worried, they spend hours finding every expert that they can to explain, in graphic detail, why we should be scared. They play out every worst-case scenario possible.

I mentioned this in a recent past post, but I will repeat it to emphasize my point. A news media reporter had a former CDC official on the show, CNN I think. At that time the US was still early in the rise of cases but they media was heavily focused on what “might” happen – what “could” happen. He asked the expert about the possibility of a million citizens in the US dying from the virus and the answer was an assured “no, we won’t see that”. Factual and firm response to the question – move on, right? Nope, The reporter, dissatisfied at being shut down, pressed on, question if there was NO way that could happen, and the expert kept telling him “no”, finally admitting that if every person in every state of the country did nothing, we just went on with life as usual and did not testing, no quarantining, and no social distancing, that maybe that some epidemical model somewhere might make that possible, but of course that won’t ever happen. How can you hope to feel secure if you are exposed to an endless stream of that nature of “reporting”?

And therein lies the difficulty; where do we fain factual information? How do we differentiate between hype and sensationalism and real facts? Where do we draw the line between immersion in the pandemic and the rest of our lives? Obviously many citizens have chosen to essentially ignore the factual information – we seem to have ended up with two factions (oh so typical of our society these days) – those who are terrified and are spraying everything within 10’ of them with disinfectant while wearing a hazmat suit and wearing a respirator while locked inside their home with 500 rolls of toilet paper. The others are living life pretty much as usual – Duncan Donuts or Starbucks for coffee, any convenient drive-thru for food, and gathering in social groups like always. And there is a slender sliver somewhere in the middle, trying to balance life with a sense of security.

The bell curve is used to describe statistical data mathematically but in a visual manner – the highest count of whatever it is you are measuring resides at the center and deviations from that standard fall farther left or right of center out to the absolute few (or one) outlying data point. The data almost always exhibits a bell-shaped curve, symmetrical and peaked at dead center. Examples of this would include the height or weight of a group of people, flipping a coin, rolling dice, shoe size, school exam results, and so forth. Statistically they will always form a bell-shaped curve, again, with every place along that curve representing a data point. It is a fascinating example of math in real life.

But today? Today, in many cases, the bell curve is no longer bell-shaped – at least with regards to people’s position on issues. A roll of the dice will always populate the bell curve the same, as will cars through a toll booth. But anything regarding opinion, ideas, principles, or current issues in the world today? Not so much a bell. Climate change? The economy? Politics? COVID-19? All of these would have usually resulted in a bell curve – skewed a little one way or the other depending upon how much of a hot button the topic might be, but still a bell curve. Not these days! I often use the digital (or discrete) vs analog analogy: digital is on or off – no in between – while analog is any and every finest increment possible between the two poles – like you gas gauge in the car….half tank, quarter tank, full tank, etc. And that results in a bell curve; digital does not. And our culture has become so digital it absolutely astounds me.

The experts recommend a shelter-in-place philosophy to combat the spread of the virus. From what I see from a ten-mile view, half the people are hunkering down and half are still out galivanting about; there is no bell curve at all. Even the belief in the harmfulness of the virus itself is split with half thinking it is nothing more than a cold and half believing it is the end of days. And this is where I generally turn to data – to factual, empirical information. And that, dear reader, is proving very difficult to obtain these days. There is so much subjective influence by all the press – regardless of political affiliation – both sides are doing it, that separating fact from hyperbole is tedious at best. And the speed at which this all developing makes information outdated almost as soon as it is read.

Here in my little state, we just crested 100 people confirmed with the virus. That is 0.01% of the population of the state. Of those confirmed positive, I think seven were hospitalized with three still in the hospital. And happily, no deaths yet. Of course, the whole testing debate now enters the discussion with some experts insisting the actual number of infected is ten times the actual due to the lack of testing. So that would mean 1000 people have is here, making it 0.1% of the population – this several weeks after the first case. Note: believe me, I am not trivializing this virus here, I am using the only data I have available to me. And we are a small state, unlike New York, which is suffering greatly right now. Rhode Island has a density of 1021 people per square mile. By contrast, New York City was a density of 26,400 people per square mile, and Manhattan’s density is 67,000 people per square mile. One would expect their impact to be far worse than here in RI.

This blog was started to pass along the lessons I’ve learned through my years, but I am not sure there have been many lessons recently, if any. I’ve spent a lot of time complaining, pointing out fault, and whining about how weird things are lately in society and how people are all changing. Well, that is a lesson unto itself – life is dynamic; change happens. As you grow and as you age, people will change, customs will change, and life will change. Of that be sure. And it will be difficult and uncomfortable at times; things you held dear and valued will be cast aside by new generations forging their own way, their own path. And things like COVID-19 will come along and will change your life, at least temporarily. And it will be difficult and uncomfortable. But you will get through it – we will get through it. And some things, like the analog view of current issues, like nonpartisan news media, and like factual and objective reporting will inevitably be left by the wayside, to be picked up and stored in the museum of fond memories. And that is today’s lesson dear reader. Stay healthy!!

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