Based on worldwide behavior patterns it appears that we live in extraordinarily dangerous times. Of course I am referring to this ‘virus’, I will not call this thing by its name, because it is a terrorist whose appearance has generated a terror that far exceeds that of the 9/11 attacks.
There is a heavy load of advice from countless experts and laymen floating around on the internet. Some of it is rather repetitive – I am wondering if anybody bothered to count how many times “wash your hands” has appeared on the web in the last three weeks.
So why should you read on and pay attention to my advice? Clearly, I have no clue when it comes to epidemiology. But as an undercover illegal spy who operated behind enemy lines, I have much experience dealing with danger and risk management. I lived a high risk life for 15 years, and I was rather successful. Had it not been for a KGB defector (an unforeseeable and unmanageable risk) I would never have been discovered. Enough of a reason to read on? Please do. Below are five major pieces of advice on how to best get through the current health scare and beyond.
As a spy, the most important thing for my survival was to determine and accept the reality of any given situation I found myself in. Here is a rather extreme example. It was about three years after my arrival in the U.S. when I busted my shoulder in an accident while working as a bike messenger. I was advised to get an operation to reset the joint. It took me but a few seconds to decline. The risk of babbling something in German, my mother tongue, while in deep anesthesia was too big. My shoulder healed, but since that time I have limited mobility in that joint (good excuse for my lousy golf game, by the way). But limited mobility in a joint was preferable to overall limited mobility while rotting a jail cell.
The situation we have today is plain and simple. Scientists and medical experts have declared this virus very dangerous, and the powers that be (various governments, and my wife) have determined that the best way to deal with this crisis is to pretty much eliminate all aspects of social life. You may not like it, you may not trust the science, and you may not trust the government. But no matter your attitude, this is the reality and all you can and should do is ACCEPT IT.
Listen to the Experts
Do you drill your own teeth? Are you your own plumber, car repair person, financial adviser, butcher, baker, shoemaker, etc? Of course not! So why would the current situation be any different? The experts in an epidemic are, you guessed it, epidemiologists. They may not be 100% right, they may even be wrong because of insufficient data to make an accurate determination, but they are much more likely to be right than you are. Just because the experts state something you do not like will not make them wrong.
And for the love of life and your peace of mind, stay away from social media. Even most news feeds distribute a lot of nonsense. Unless the piece you are reading is quoting an expert, close your browser. At best you are wasting your time and filling your brain with useless clutter, and at worst you might be induced to do something that may harm you and your family.
In a situation where the truth is not obvious, it is always advisable to go to a second independent source for verification. This is common practice in the intelligence field. In order to ascertain the veracity of an individual such as a defector, our intelligence agencies always ask questions to which they already know the answer. When I underwent a polygraph test, I failed one question. Much later I realized that I had to fail that question. It contained a double negative which triggered unusual brainwaves. For the entire test to be valid, this unusual pattern had to be there.
The bottom line: For each important opinion, seek out two independent experts. If they agree, you are as close to the truth as you may get. If they do not agree, get a third opinion. Even if there is no consensus, only a majority, you are still as close to the truth as you can.
Do not Let Emotions Rule You
When it comes to assessing a situation properly and acting in your own best interest, emotions are your worst enemy. Radically rational thought is required. In this context, consider the following prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference
This is called the Serenity Prayer, and whether you believe in a God or not, it is one of the wisest sayings ever.
Since we are in a crisis situation, it is unlikely that you will be filled with positive emotions. It is the negative emotions that you need to fight. Anger, sadness, despair, hatred, guilt, fear, apathy, and frustration will do nothing for you. Every one of those, even if they are outwardly directed, will find their way into the center of your emotional self and will do damage to your psyche.
The Most Selfish Thing to Do
As an ex spy I have always tried to take the long view of a situation. From that perspective, the following might not sound as much like an oxymoron as the short view would indicate. The most selfish thing you can do in these times is to be kind to others. If a majority of us act that way, we all will reap the benefits. Perhaps, the most selfish act of NOT buying an extra pack of toilet paper will result in stabilized supply of that prized item, something that will benefit you in many ways, not the least of which being an overall calmer environment. Stress kills, and empty shelves that were once overstocked with those white rolls of paper cause stress.
A friend of mine posted the following episode on Facebook: As we all know, most fast food restaurants closed their dine-in facilities, drive-through only. My friend saw a trucker, whose vehicle would not fit into the drive-through lane, trying to maneuver the truck out of the parking lot in hungry despair. She offered to buy the trucker the meal he wanted. In this scenario, you do not just help creating a better atmosphere, but you also get the short term boost of having done something good.
Get Ready for the Future
A lot of us are still asking ourselves “WHAT NOW?” I believe that an even more important question is “WHAT NEXT?”. Instead of whining and complaining about Donald Trump, the Democrats, the Chinese, the Republicans, the stupid moron who just bought the last six hand sanitizers in front of you when you were looking to buy only one, the inadequate healthcare system, the lack of toilet paper, and the stress of having the kids home all day, we should face the music and think about a the coming RESET.
As for me, I can’t do public speaking anymore because the public has disappeared. Thus, I am reaching deep into my tool chest to figure out how to FACE the music to Flourish After the Corona Epidemic. For you, that may well be a time to brush up on skills that will be in demand when that microscopic terrorist has been defeated. Be well, be positive and get ready.