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  • Writer's pictureTyler Cheese

All it took for me to become an optimist was a world pandemic

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

Let me start by saying, I don’t want to downplay the severity of what’s happening in the world right now. I do however believe in finding levity and positivity in hard times. This post was written with this in mind.

I know we’ve all heard this a lot lately, but it’s a strange time right now.

And with strange times come even stranger revelations. For instance, I’ve learned that I’m somewhat of an optimist.

Reader, I’m as surprised as you are.

While there’s a lot of things going on that deserve our attention (people succumbing to the virus, caring for our loved-ones, providing resources to the more at-risk members of society) and even worse things that don’t (idiots protesting having to stay at home, idiot politicians, or idiots who just can’t stay two goddamn metres away!), I would like to take some time to focus on a few positives that have come out of this whole thing.

There’s lots of bad news out there, so here’s some of the good (yes, I know that John Krasinsky beat me to it):

Climate change might finally be taken seriously

With Earth Day having just passed, it seems like right now we have a pretty good shot at better understanding how we can positively impact the environment.

Venice’s Grand Canal is running clear. Global carbon emissions have fallen. People in some areas of India can see the Himalayas for the first time in years.

Meehan Crist, a New York Times columnist writes, “Coronavirus has led to an astonishing shutdown of economic activity and a drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels.”

In an article posted on Forbes, Victoria Rochard points out “the pandemic has proven that change is possible.” Raising the question, if we can make these changes for the pandemic, why not to stop or slow the affects of climate change?

And this isn’t all about learning to hug trees while we stay at home either.

Research done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows “that air pollution is associated with higher Covid-19 rates.”

It turns out the virus and climate change are pretty inextricably linked. Rochard predicts, “to aid in the reduction of spread for future epidemics, reducing air pollution now will be important.”

The environmentalist in me is taking these revelations as a win for the earth.

Still, experts are wary that we will maintain these changes once the pandemic passes.

Crist writes, “the short-term positive effects on the climate that we’re seeing today serve as a dramatic reminder that changing personal consumption habits will mean very little going forward if we all fail to decarbonize the global community.”

Oliver Milman, writing for The Guardian, writes, “Conservationists warn that returning the world to its pre-pandemic settings will quickly wipe out any environmental benefits of the shut down.”

We all need to keep this in mind when things begin returning to normal - whatever normal looks like after all this.

We’re rediscovering the value of art

Art makers and storytellers have always been valuable to society. They’ve also always been taken for granted.

I read a tweet a few weeks ago (I wish I could find it now) that pointed out how ridiculous it is that arts and culture projects struggle so much in our society, when this pandemic has made their value so obvious.

The tweet defined art as anything we’re consuming at the moment that is helping us cope – free livestreams of musicals and operas, the shows we spend hours bingeing on Netflix, and yes, even porn.

And it’s true. People are engaging with the arts more and more in their self-isolation. Some people are even becoming artists themselves, whether through virtual paint nights, flocking to gen z’s favourite app TikTok, or by turning themselves into famous paintings and posting it on social media.

There’s no doubt about it, the need for arts and culture is more apparent than ever. Artists are providing us with hope while we look toward the end of this thing. They are keeping us all from going insane and murdering our partners, roommates and families.

Writing for CBC Arts, Amanda Parris echoes these sentiments (albeit less murder-y): “At a time when social distancing has become a matter of life and death, it is the creatives who have largely made it possible to endure this new way of life.”

She further agreed that this is all a good reminder of the merits of these creatives and the products they produce, and warns to not take them for granted when this is all over.

“Artists are constantly forced to prove their value and worth to governments and voters. This lockdown should be a wake-up call to all of us who are leaning on these creatives now: arts and culture needs to be an unwavering national priority.”

In short, we are all seeing the true value of art and artists at this time. Let’s continue to recognize that value and support the important creators, even after we’re allowed to leave our homes once again.

Social media is actually social for once

Listen, there’s still a lot of bad when it comes to social media – probably more bad than good. However, there’s been a fundamental shift in how people are using social media in this time of crisis.

We’re all video chatting. We’re playing games together. We’re talking more regularly to old friends and distant family. We’re even supporting complete strangers.

It’s become much more important to connect with others and less important to show off how wonderful your recent trip to Timbuktu was, how much smarter you are than the people running our governments, or how you’ve seemingly cured cancer by paying off your student loans (congrats btw, I’m not jealous at all).

The proof is all around us. Facebook reported that in March overall messaging increased by 50% in countries hit the hardest by the pandemic. Likewise, Zoom – a video chat app made for business meetings – saw a 300% usage increase. And then there’s Houseparty, an app that allows you and your friends to play games together remotely over video chat – this app was nearly dead just last year and is now one of the top apps in the iTunes App Store.

Writing for Victoria News, Daniel Taylor writes, “Canadians are relying on social media to stay connected more than ever before, sharing texts, memes and often arranging routine video chats with friends to stave off feelings of loneliness that come with long-term isolation.”

Social media is finally helping us manage our social lives, because it’s all we’ve got.

Josh Constine, for Tech Crunch, points out that before this crisis, “we had turned social media into a sport but spent the whole time staring at the scoreboard rather than embracing the joy of play.”

He argues, not only is social media currently allowing all of us to keep in touch – the current situation is actually helping many of us to reevaluate what our social lives can look like.

“Typically, our time is occupied by acquaintances of circumstance. The co-workers who share our office. The friends who happen to live in the neighborhood. But now we’re each building a virtual family completely of our choosing. The calculus has shifted from who is convenient or who invites us to the most exciting place, to who makes us feel most human.”

Arguably, this is what social media should have always been about – connecting with the people we care about most, even when we can’t be physically close to them.

I think we’ve all learned that social media can be used meaningfully, to enrich our connections to one another. And I hope that doesn’t go away when this is all over.

We can do more, together

You can probably sense a theme in theses observations.

It’s not just about celebrating a few of the positives that have come out of this whole situation. It’s about learning from them.

We as a society need to decide what our world is going to look like when we come out on the other side of the virus. And these are all things that shouldn’t fall by the wayside as we return to our “normal” lives.

We can do more to help the planet.

We can’t live without art and the people who create it.

We should focus on connecting, rather than showing off.

In the meantime, let’s all just try to get through this thing together. Stay safe and take care of yourself.

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