life behind the mask (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on june 11, 2020

For the last few months, I've been purposely avoiding writing about the topic that is most on everyone's minds right now: COVID-19.

Now, there are multiple reasons why I chose not to bring up this subject, the foremost being that I didn't take it seriously enough, but the reasons don't really matter. I didn't, and that's that. Now, however, I'd like to say a few words.

I don't think anyone recognized at first how much this epidemic would mean to our daily lives. I certainly didn't. In just a few short months, we've come so far that even thinking about how we used to do things feels odd to me.

After some thought, I've come to wonder what I would have thought if I was shown a glimpse of our modern-day world six months ago. Walking into a mall and seeing everyone wearing masks, guards performing temperature checks before allowing customers in, whole sections of restaurants roped off, and half of the seats at each table unused would have hugely perplexed me. It would have seemed like a war zone.

Where I live, this is doing much better than we were a couple of months ago. Back then, we were required to stay inside, and only one or two people per household were allowed out at a time and only for specific purposes. I still remember the first time I went for a drive with my dad; everything was deserted. No one was out walking, there were no cars on the road, and hardly anything was open.

What would my six-month-ago self have thought? I honestly have no idea. I don't think I could have possibly imagined anything like it would exist outside of a sci-fi novel.

I've always been amazed at how everything builds on everything else. For example, when reading, you don't think about everything that comes before the current events. What is happening can't have happened without the previous events, but you don't need to remember those the whole time. Your brain fills in all the details based on what you've read. It builds.

Real-life is similar. We aren't continually surprised by the state of things because we were there for what happened before. It seems normal. If we were suddenly to skip forward, though, everything would astonish us.

I've decided I'm not going to worry about whether this situation is being handled correctly, or what could be done better. Instead, I'll think about how I can use it to my advantage. I'll ask, "How can I come out of this better than I went in?"

The first question you need to ask yourself when trying to improve is, "what about who I am now would most have surprised me a year ago?" A year ago, I would never have expected to be one of my school's foremost actors, owner of an online reading group with over a thousand members, writing a blog like this, or even writing anything nearly as much as I do.

Second, ask, "Where do I want to be in a year?" Knowing the result you want is vital to setting a goal for yourself. If you try to set a goal like "write every day" without having any idea what the result you're working toward is, you won't be pleased with the result.

Once you know where you're going, it's relatively simple to create steps to it. Just make sure they're achievable and that you work in enough fun to keep you motivated and happy.

If there's anything this epidemic has taught me, it's that plans don't always work out. Our lives are fragile, and it doesn't take much to upset them all the most careful plans we make. There's always something that changes what's going to happen, no matter how careful we are.

There's one thing, though, that we can control: our attitude toward the changes. Change happens whether we want it or not, so why not make the best of it? I try, whatever happens, to come out of it a better person than I went in. I don't always succeed, but it helps me remain open to change and willing to accept it.

While I'm writing about change, I'd like to talk a bit about science fiction. Have you ever noticed how much variety there is in predictions about the future? And yet, somehow, they all seem like viable futures. The future is too uncertain to predict perfectly. There are far too many variables involved to make any accurate guesses. Sci-fi stories tend to focus on one aspect of the future each, creating a believable but unlikely view of the future.

Really, though, accurate prediction of the future is impossible because one deviation from the plan can throw the whole thing off. Asimov's Foundation Trilogy touches on that.

Foundation focuses on "Psychohistory," a new science that allows people to mathematically predict the future. However, it can't ever predict certainties, only probabilities:

"Hari Seldon knew that his psychohistory could predict only probabilities, and not certainties. There was always a margin of error, and as time passed that margin increases in geometric progression." - Isaac Asimov, Foundation and Empire

Even predicting probabilities is extremely unlikely to work in real life. It acts as if humans are the only factors. Anything could cause a change, from a power-hungry official to a contagious disease arising from a small province. (On a side note, just try imagining this whole virus thing on a galactic scale; it's mind-boggling!)

The best way to deal with change is to focus on the small, short term things you're doing. Start each day with the mentality of improving before you go to bed. Don't be afraid of change; master it to create a person that you'll be proud of years down the road.

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