I did this survey in May 2020, right in the midst of the lock- down. It paints a picture of how people felt as they were learning to practice the virus safety regimen and managing everyday life without being able to go out. We will remember both the pandemic and the lockdown for a long time to come.
Some of you may have read about previous pandemics. The Black Death pandemic occurred from 1346 to 1353 and killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people. The Spanish flu, the last pandemic, occurred during 1918-1920 and killed an estimated 50 million or more people worldwide. We can read about the devastation these pandemics caused in history books. But how people at large (infected or not) felt, we will never know.
If 5 or 10 years later, when our five-year-old children will have grown up and ask, or 10 or 20 or 30 years later, the new generation of 10- or 20- or 30-year-olds, not yet born, ask what COVID-19 pandemic was like, give them some history books to read. Those books will tell them that COVID-19 had killed 4.30 million people worldwide (as of August 8, 2021). Help them visualize that number. That number is as large as the population of Oregon. Or about half the population of London (UK). Beyond the numbers, to give them a feel for the human experience, give them this book to read.
We are not out of the woods yet. On June 28, 2021, Australia declared a new lockdown to contain the Delta variant. The vaccination rate there had been only 15%. And on July 28, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines, recommending wearing masks indoors, even if vaccinated. Similar calls for masking and vaccination have been issued with renewed urgency in Europe and in countries across the world.
For all its misery, the lockdown did have a silver lining: It forced us to rearrange everyday life. For some of us, the chores of living increased. For some, there was more free time, and we found new creative ways of filling that time. In my own research, I found that people who spent their time in new productive and creative work (e.g., new hobbies, gardening, arts and crafts, or even DIY projects) or led more active lives felt less anxiety than those who spent their time in passive entertainment (e.g., TV and video) or just idling. If you re-listen to some of the 100 voices closely, you will see a glimpse of this pattern. Yes, it helps to find a new hobby, a new passion— where our bodies get exercised and our minds get creative.
In my research, I have also found that the pandemic made many people feel greater altruism or generosity—a desire to do something good for their communities. According to a Gates Foundation report, 56 percent of US households gave to charity or volunteered in response to the pandemic, with a 12.6% increase in new donors. And Charity Navigator (a tracker) reported that donations to Feeding America increased 1,980 percent year over year, and donations to Doctors With- out Borders increased 131 percent year over year. I call this the “rise of a ‘virtuous mind’.” Glance back through all the voices you marked “soulful” and see if you don’t notice the rise of this virtue in many of the voices.
The lockdown gave us a taste of a life different from what we had lived our entire time on Earth. Whether we felt that taste as sad, sour, sweet, or soulful, it showed us new possibilities. New responsibilities. New opportunities. It made us think differently.
Those of us who felt the “sad” or “sour” taste in our own lives, let us use the voices of the “sweet” and the “soulful” types to feel the silver lining. Let us feel those same perspectives vicariously. After all, we don’t want to live with that sadness, and we don’t want to keep that sour taste in our mouths for the rest of our lives. The “sweet” and the “soulfuls” were face- to-face with the same pandemic and the same lockdown as we were, and yet they were able to see a silver lining; we too want to taste the same “nectar of life.” We want to look at life and the world through the same lenses of positivity.
On the other hand, if we are the “sweet” or “soulful” types, let us harness our positivity to understand the inner struggles of the “sad” and the “sour.” They had their reasons. Let us hope someday soon they will be able to come out of their current outlook of “sad” and “sour.” Let us help them in that transition.
We now have the vaccine, made possible by the resolute dedication of our former president, who marshaled all resources into harnessing the drug R&D companies. Science has come to our rescue. And the vaccine is available in every town and every village in the USA (and in much of the world), thanks to our current president’s resolve to bring it to the doorsteps of every American. Americans are getting the vaccine in droves (65% at the time of writing had received at least one dose) because they believe it is the strongest self-protection one could ever hope for—99.5% of the deaths during the 6 months of January to June, 2021, occurred among the non-vaccinated! Or because they consider protecting others their civil duty, an act of patriotism. Let us welcome more and more people into the fold, the “sad” or the “sour” types and the “sweet” and the “soulful” types alike. Many will do it—take the vaccine— ultimately because they recognize that it is their patriotic duty. And in displaying patriotism, we Americans are second to none. Nor are the British, the Germans, the Brazilians, the Italians, or the Indians. Our patriotism, the patriotism of each of the four types, gives us hope the world will soon emerge out of the pandemic and out of the new lockdowns.
We—the “sweet” and “soulful” types among us—what are we going to do for ourselves? Let us cultivate those good feelings even more. It is a law of nature that time makes us forget. As the economy reopens, let us flock to the open world, to the marketplace, of course, to soak in the wonderful experiences we had once taken for granted. But with equal zeal, let us nurture our “sweet” and our “soulful” perspectives as well. Let us act on our newfound wisdom to pursue a greater work-life balance. Let us make our work more meaningful.
The “voices” in the book are just that—voices! They echo our feelings at the moment. Individually, they do not necessarily represent our complete selves. We are, at the moment, experiencing a catastrophe of a lifetime. We could not have imagined that a disease that is so invisible that the infected do not show symptoms for days and weeks could invade our world; that we could get it from friends and family members and strangers alike; that it will forbid us to touch things, surfaces, pets, people; that we will lose the freedom to go to places to eat, shop, worship, and mingle; that we will be ordered to stay within the bounds of our homes. And face the possibility that we could still get the disease, and that if we got it, there may not be a hospital bed available to us. We experienced this period of catastrophe variously: for some of us, rearranging our work and personal lives became a hassle, even a nightmare; for some of us, more time at home became a blessing in dis- guise. The “voices” reflect this varied experience.
No matter what be the tone of our “voice” in this moment, each of us in our persona at large harbors a tinge of each tone. Each of us is therefore capable of cultivating the “sweet” and the “soulful” sides of our being. With near-universal adoption of the vaccine, we will soon tame COVID-19 and its Delta variant for good. Soon we will be fully free of the lockdown. Each of us can emerge with a “sweet” and a “soulful” voice.
The Sad, the Sour, the Sweet, and the Soulful, let each of us use this once-in-a-lifetime experience to take action to improve our material, family, social and spiritual life. And if we haven‘t asked already, let us ask as well, how to make our life more purposeful, more meaningful. For ourselves and for the world we live in!
Buy it for yourself. Then keep it for future generations