The Small Stuff Is Now The Big Stuff

by Roger Johns

I normally shy away from blogging about current events, but today, I’m making an exception. All our lives, we’ve hear the expression “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and there are lots of good, solid, practical reasons for heeding this bit of conventional wisdom:

  • You can’t control everything, so don’t drive yourself to the brink trying to
  • Focus on the stuff that matters the most (which requires you to . . .)
  • Learn to understand the relative importance of the situations you’re facing

Unfortunately, it now seems all of us are very much sweating some really, really small stuff. Over the last few weeks, I’ve watched with growing horror and dismay as the negative effects of the corona virus outbreak have rippled across the planet.

It is an exceptionally small creature, yet its influence is enormous. One virus particle is about 100 nanometers across. For comparison, 10,000 of them, lined up side-by-side would cover a distance about the width of a grain of sand. Yet this infinitesimally small thing has disrupted financial markets, travel, social structures and norms, families, whole countries.

The term ‘social distancing’ has entered my consciousness for the first time (although I’m sure the expression has been around for a while) to describe all the ways we’re inserting distance between ourselves and others, at both the individual and group level, as we attempt to halt the spread of this virus. Reports of cruise ships being turned away from harbors are heartbreaking. The ships have essentially become floating quarantines with thousands of passengers and crew unable to leave – people who boarded for the purpose of finding some relaxation and down-time, never realizing they’d be held in isolation and unable to disembark when the cruise was over.

It’s hard to image how disruptive this is to families and livelihoods. And then, there are shortages of masks and gloves and hand sanitizer and the predictable price-gouging of these preventive items by some. We hear/read about the race to produce a vaccine, but vaccine development takes time, and meanwhile, this very small pathogen continues to take its toll.

And while the economic effects are important and will continue to unfold into the foreseeable future, it’s the human toll that is so troubling to me: missed funerals, the inability to be with loved ones in medical or emotional need, already-strained relationships that are under additional pressure, financially-stressed families whose prospects dim as the illness continues its relentless march, life-plans that must be rethought as educational timelines are disrupted or jobs are lost or put in jeopardy. My heart goes out to all who are suffering so much from this.

We live in divisive times, for sure, so this seems like an excellent opportunity to exercise our empathy and understanding and patience muscles. As the effects of this phenomenon play out over the coming months (and maybe years) we’ll find ourselves confronting situations that didn’t work out because the person on the other end has experienced some direct, disrupting effect of the virus. Let’s all do our best to keep this in mind, as we deal with the damage wrought by this incredibly disruptive, incredibly tiny entity. It’s late in the year for New Year’s resolutions, but there’s no law that says resolution-making is an activity confined to the first few weeks of a new year.

Roger Johns is the award-winning author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books.

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