Our Defining Moment: Standing Tall in a Pandemic

Unemployed men during great depression

I’ve been thinking about my parents lately. They were part of what we commonly refer to today as the “greatest generation,” those souls born between 1901 to the late 1920s. We call them the “greatest generation” because they lived through a number of defining moments including World War I, the Spanish Flu epidemic, the great depression and World War II.

Not only did my parents live during these difficult times but they were poor. My mother’s family lived for several months in a tent as they were waiting for my grandfather to finish building their house. My father’s mother could not afford shoes. She taught school and wore galoshes (rubber boots that fit over top of shoes in the winter), an embarrassment to my father. Neither had central heat until in their teens.

My parent’s generation earned the name “great.” It was not arbitrarily bestowed upon them. People aren’t called great because they have it easy but because they face hardship. In fact, as I reflect on this, the qualities that are most noble, that most distinguish us, that make our lives noteworthy and even enable us to become better people come from adversity and hardship.

Think about it for a moment. If we lived in a world without hardship we would live in a world without courage, discipline, sacrifice, compassion, fortitude, and honor.

The Coronavirus

image of coronavirus

Which brings me to today. The Coronavirus has disrupted our world more than any other event that I can recall during my lifetime. It is, perhaps, the defining moment of our lives.

(Of course, this is not true for everyone. I’m aware of so many people around the world that have suffered immensely from the consequences of poverty, disease, war, and political corruption. Although much of society is more prosperous than ever before in the history of human kind, this is certainly not true of everyone and I want acknowledge this fact.)

Nevertheless, so many citizens of the United States as well as people around the globe are experiencing unprecedented anxiety and dread as we socially isolate and watch, somewhat helplessly, as the health and economic consequences of this disease unfold.

We’re in new territory. How quickly will things go back to normal? Will we go back to normal? What will be normal in the future?

So, I also want to suggest that this is our moment. My parents and grandparents faced their moments, and it made them better people—deserving of the label of the greatest generation. What I’m wondering is how we’ll step up to our defining moment.

I want to offer three suggestions.

1. Face Your Feelings

First, face your feelings squarely. It is okay that you are feeling afraid, worried, anxious, hopeless, sad, dread, angry…whatever you might be feeling. The worst thing you can do is deny, avoid or distract yourself from your feelings because when you do so they don’t go away. They go underground and come out in more harmful ways.
It is better to admit them. This is how you honor yourself. It is how you develop emotional resilience. It is how you have new choices that allow you to either resolve or manage them.

I wrote an article about this, recently, entitled How to Face Your Fear. The article teaches you how to face your emotions by allowing and leaning into them in a way that they begin to diminish. We all face difficult emotions. We can also learn how to manage these emotions so that we don’t have to be afraid of them and so they don’t rule our lives.

2. Take a Look at Your Thoughts

Second, take a look at your thoughts, the story you are telling yourself about this pandemic and what is happening in the world today. By offering this advice I’m not suggesting you deny reality, simply “think positive,” or make something up that is not believable to you.

However, I am suggesting that the meaning of this mega-event is not inherent within the event. Nor is there a right story or a wrong story. In fact, that’s an idea you have to get out of your head in order to become the author of your story. There are stories that are useful and which serve you and those which do not. So why not tell yourself a story that allows you to feel something that will empower you during this time and not something that leaves you only anxious and depressed.

green plant growing in crack of asphalt

Some people are seeing and reporting on all the good going on in the world today. Others are telling themselves stories about their daily blessings. Some are enjoying their families as never before. Others are living today rather than guessing about what the world will be like next month or a year from now.

My parents and grandparents might tell me a story that this pandemic will shake things up in a way that will make us a better people and society in the future. In fact, I know they would say that.

And so, here’s a story I’m telling myself.

“We don’t grow if we don’t face hardship. We’ve had it pretty easy for a long time. We’ve become so comfortable physically and emotionally that we’ve become soft. We expect life to be easy. We’ve lost our resilience.

So it’s okay to be dealing with something hard as a society. In fact, there is a natural opposition in all things in this universe. We can’t know the sweet without knowing the bitter. We can’t know joy without knowing pain. There is an inevitable ebb and flow to life and we have to go through the ebbs to find gladness in the flow.

This defining moment will make us better people. We’ll come out more aware of our mutual dependency. We’ll be more aware of the plight of other people and, therefore, kinder and more compassionate.

This event will cause us to look at our priorities and remember what is most important in life. Perhaps it will help us remember the importance of our families. Maybe we’ll become more appreciative and grateful for the simple pleasures of life. Maybe it will help us realize we’re strong and resilient. We can handle hard things. Character matters.

And the good news is that expansions of the economy always follow contractions. It was true after WWI, the great depression, and WWII. The economy not only came back stronger but in a way that offered more opportunity to millions of people. It resulted in greater economic equality. There will be some things that are painful about the process. But we’ll be better as people and a society as a consequence.”

Of course, my words are just a story. You may agree with some of it and you may disagree. But it’s what I’m telling myself.

The important thing is that you decide what you believe. What story are you telling yourself during this unprecedented time?

3. Take Action

My third suggestion is to take action. What action? I don’t know. You have to decide. men sky-diving

I know that inaction feels bad. It results in a sense of helplessness, powerlessness, feelings of being a victim. Action is a way of respecting yourself and affirming your resourcefulness and power. It feels good.

There are lots of ways to take action. Watching Net Flicks, playing video games, or surfing the internet all day isn’t action. Not that there is anything wrong with these things. You may need them as a temporary diversion and way of taking care of yourself. But action involves doing something.

I took one simple action one day last week. I woke up in a funk, down and uncertain about the future. After letting myself feel it for about ten minutes, I shifted my body. I literally stood. In fact, I stood tall. I took some deep breaths, raised my head, and put my shoulders back. And I immediately changed the way I was talking to myself. “I got this. Allens are resilient. I can handle what life’s dishing up right now.”

Some people take action (stand tall) by serving other people. Some are serving their families as never before. Others are checking in on the more vulnerable in their neighborhoods, perhaps getting out and doing their shopping. Some are reaching out to others with humor and talent. Some are getting on the phone or social media just to connect with loved ones or share words of encouragement with the larger community.

Many others, healthcare and essential workers, are putting themselves at risk to care for the rest of us and make society safer. Some of their stories are amazing.

Some people are taking action by continuing to do their jobs, albeit from home. Others are taking on household or creative projects they’ve long put off. My siblings are using this time to write their personal stories and family histories. Others are using this time to learn new hobbies or skills.

Some are taking more direct action about what’s going on in society by researching, writing and sharing their opinions. Others are doing what they can to influence the political process. John Krasinski is offering an uplifting podcast to inform us of all the good things happening in society today.

I could go on. My point is that all of us need to be engaged in actions that we consider productive and meaningful. We need to be taking action rather than waiting, rather than being acted upon. Daily action, whether it is taking care of ourselves or making a contribution to others builds confidence and resilience.

Conclusion

For most of us this is a time of anxiety and uncertainty, the kind of time that “tries men’s souls.” Eventually things will work out. You’ll survive. But why not do more than survive? This is, after all, a defining moment. This is a time to decide, to shape your own experience.

There was a time when my parents and grandparents lived in uncertainty and anxiety. They didn’t know how things would work out. But they did work out. They didn’t just happen to work out but worked out because their generation stood tall. They faced their fears, they told themselves an empowering story, and they took action.

And I have all the confidence that we will stand tall as well.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

2 responses to “Our Defining Moment: Standing Tall in a Pandemic”

  1. Judy Kaye says:

    This piece is terrific! Thanks so much

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