Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Lessons from the Great Pause

From one citizen to another, I beg of you: take a deep breath, ignore the deafening noise, and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life.

“Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting” by Julio Vincent Gambuto

I want you to acknowledge that the last year of Covid living has not been entirely awful.

This isn’t to say the last year has been pleasant, nor am I contending that it has been overall good. Everyone’s life has been affected in countless negative ways. There’s not much reason to begin listing them here; we have all been living it and we are acutely aware.

There is hope and optimism now in ways that there hasn’t been in so long. We are on the precipice of things starting to return to pre-pandemic normal. Vaccination levels around the country are increasing rapidly. The CDC recently released updated safety guidelines that, for the first time in more than a year, loosen restrictions and reassure us that the things we’ve been missing are coming back. The weather is warmer, the days are longer.

We have all been missing normal though we aren’t missing it precisely as it was. With more than a year distance from what life used to be like, our brains are given over to nostalgia. We long for the good things – hugging friends, eating in restaurants, going to movies or museums, travel, not constantly calculating infection risk of every action, and so much more. I certainly am there too and eager for the myriad ways that life can get better in the coming months.

But in all this nostalgia we aren’t focused on the bad side of what used to be. The things that we necessarily sluffed off as part of the transition to lockdown and haven’t thought about since because we don’t miss them. And as things come back online, as we go back to normal, those things will come back too.

That is, unless we make a conscious decision to interfere. At any given point we are in charge of deciding who we are and how we want to live. Not always to the degree that we would prefer, but far more than we take advantage of. And this is why it is important now, before we all run out into the world embracing what was and escaping what we have been living, to take the time to acknowledge and inventory what we have today.

The brain is better at noticing discomfort than comfort. We acutely miss the ability to breathe through our noses when we are sick but don’t appreciate easy breathing when we’re healthy. (Take three breaths right now and try to savor it.) Finding $20 is nice, but losing $20 is more visceral. It may have evolutionary basis, but it’s not entirely helpful for keeping what is working well. We don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone. So it must be a conscious effort to sit down and think it through. Write it out or discuss it with someone. Whatever works, but be intentional. There is likely to be some bad in here. Some absences felt, some longing. But digging should help find the overlooked gems.

I’ve included a list of questions at the end*. This doesn’t need to feel like homework. These can be prompts for you to journal on. Or you and a friend or partner to discuss over dinner or a drink or on a long walk through a park. For many of us, we’ve been seeing the same person or few people for the last year. You might be running low on conversation topics. Well, here you go. A whole new set of things to discuss. You’re welcome.

For me, the inventory of things I appreciate today and want to keep moving forward includes the following:

  • Normalizing the concept of remote group events. I saw old friends at my virtual college reunion that wouldn’t have shown up for an in-person event. A friend has run a weekly social evening / games night for her friends scattered across the States. And all of this can happen with no need for the time and costs of interstate travel.
  • Normalizing the concept of remote one on one events. A phone call with a distant friend was normal before, as was going out to a bar with a local friend. But the combination didn’t mentally jive. In the last year I’ve had a ‘night out’ with friends in different time zones and overseas. Why should that be limited to when we happen to be in the same city?
  • Lowering the barrier to event entry. I can sit on the couch and log on to a remote concert, comedy show, or panel discussion. I don’t need to dress up, commute, or rework my dinner schedule. Yes, I miss in person events but for those nights that I just don’t have the energy to go out, a digital event is fine. Every tour moving forward should include a ‘for all the cities we didn’t visit and all the people who didn’t have the spoons’ show.
  • Projects. I got pretty good with a tagine. It wasn’t more effort than cooking other meals in familiar ways would have been, but the mental barrier to entry was removed by feeling like I had all the time to learn it. What else could I learn if I just chose to and put forth just 10% more effort?
  • Licking plates. Yes, I’ve gone a bit feral in the last year. But there are some social niceties and rules of polite society that could go away and I wouldn’t miss them. If the food was tasty, I want to savor those last drops.

There’s a lot more on my list. Your list might look different from mine, and it’s not for me to say what you should keep from the last year. We lived different lives before and we have been living different ones lately. But even if the last year has been tragic, there are some morsels of good in there. Ways you have grown, restrictions you have let go of, lessons you have learned. I encourage you to find these and hold on to them. We may not have had a choice in being thrust into the last year of global upheaval, but we can still walk out of it with new knowledge and something to show for it to make our future lives better.


*Questions to Ask Yourself

What has changed about the way you spend your time? Your commute? Waiting in lines? Spending time with family? Idle chit chat? Scrolling social media? Consuming movies, tv, music, and podcasts? What things do you appreciate that you’re doing now that you didn’t do as much before? Routine events? Big events?

What has changed about your social life? Connection with close friends? Other friends? Acquaintances? Meeting new people?

What has changed about your health? What you are eating? How much you are moving? Exercise? Sleep habits? Amount of sleep? Are there any ways in which your body and mind are better?

What has changed financially? Are you spending more or less than before? On what? Is that making your life easier? Happier? Better? Are you shopping less? Are you saving?

What is your daily life like? Clothing choices? Habits? Hobbies? Has your appreciation for anything changed? The outdoors? Fresh air? Human interaction? Walking? Driving?

What has changed about your views? Of specific people? Of people in general? On topics ranging from political to humanitarian to personal? Have you become more open minded and accepting in some ways?

What has changed about you as a person?

Anything else that’s been fun or interesting or noteworthy?

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This entry was posted on May 4, 2021 by in America and tagged , , .


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