Stop Licking Each Other

Stop Licking Each Other

We are all patients in this pandemic

I know, it’s easy for me to say. I’ve been social distancing my entire life. When I was a kid, my parents could not punish me by sending me to my room. They knew damn well that’s where I wanted to be, lost in my books or toys or science experiments. When they were angry, they’d say, “Go outside and play with your friends, young man, until you learn your lesson!” I’d go out and sit behind the shed and talk to myself about how misunderstood I was.

Now everyone is telling me to go to my room, and I love it. Seriously, I’m not only allowed to avoid crowds, keep away from people, and day-drink — it’s encouraged. In fact, it’s mandated. It’s an order.

Still, I know how hard it is on my extroverted friends. They’re going batshit crazy staying home and with no end in sight they look to me for understanding and comfort. Now, the prospect of hosting a small dinner party over a blow-out keg-bash is suddenly very appealing, and not anti-social at all.

But even my socialite, party-animal friends are learning the art of stopping, and doing it for a greater good. And they, like me, are frustrated when they see a group of selfish covidiots gathering in the streets like it’s a Mardi Gras sex party. I saw a group of young men passing around a Chic-Fil-A sandwhich. WTF? Won’t that sandwich make you sick enough on its own?

We all need to be sent to our rooms. And not just because we hope to not catch the virus ourselves. COVID-19 will not discriminate between intro- and extroverts. We need to do this because we are all sick from this virus, and the only way to get better is by following the simple advice of medical professionals around the world: Stay home. Get lots of rest. We are all patients.

Dr. Vincent Lam, a prominent Toronto emergency physician during the SARS outbreak, wrote a book called The Flu Pandemic and You: A Canadian Guide. Released in 2006, this book precedes COVID-19 by nearly 15 years, and yet it is a frightening reminder that we knew this was coming. Perhaps we could have — should have — been more prepared. But a new lesson I have taken from it is that we need to adjust our mindset a little. Think of it this way — if you knew you had the virus, would you still want to go out and lick random people for fun?

Lam writes:

An influenza pandemic causes individual people to be ill. However, its dynamics, movements, and growth affect large groups of people, so that the whole population becomes a kind of “sick patient.” In an influenza pandemic each patient not only will be a sick person but will be a potential source of risk to those around him.

Dr. Vincent Lam, The Flu Pandemic and You

It’s a simple shift. Instead of being individuals protecting ourselves from people who are infected, we can consider that as a society, as a population, we are already sick and need proper care to be cured. Because we are sick. Our economy is in ruins. Our social structures are collapsing. Our networks are starting to crumble. And if we don’t do as we’re told, we’re not going to pull through.

Maybe if each of us, no matter how healthy, just act as if we already have the virus, and to fight it, we need to stay clear of other people. That will stop the spread.

And, if you need help adjusting, I’m here to help. This is what I’ve trained for. It’s time to sit back, reflect on yourself, your place in the world, and enjoy the silence.

Be well.

A Quantum of Solitude

shutterstock_135427394A “quantum of solitude” can be defined as the precise combination of aloneness,  peace and personal reflection required to maintain our humanity and survive in a noisy world. It is a significant need, especially for an introvert like me.  It provides oxygen during times of increased social interaction and over-stimulation, so you don’t suffocate.

Over the last few days, I’ve learned to seek out solitude and respect my inner hermit.

I spent this past week immersed in learning at the Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre, trapped in a network of 50 or so high-achievers, active-thinkers and hyper-leaders, all burning with the desire to grow and to succeed. Since the program is designed to increase togetherness and incite collaboration, we were all housed in the same facility. Round the clock collaboration, integration, socialization — bordering on molestation — one participant likened it to being in jail.

And — I had a blast. The program is the beginning of a long journey and I’m honoured to be among these wonderful and brilliant people. I was as boisterous and interactive as anyone. But I’m an introvert — so it came at a cost.

For one, I went three days without sleep. An overload of information, intellectual and emotional stimulation — I had difficulty coming down. I needed time to process all that information, to reflect.   And for me, reflection requires time alone.  Time that wasn’t in the schedule.

The constant interaction also made me more emotionally vulnerable.  The program involved dissecting all the things that make us tick – our fears, weaknesses and sensitivities – to make us better leaders.  While it was eye-opening it was also draining.

So, how do we manage all this? For the introvert, who needs some measure of solitude to exist, how do you handle a conference where ‘networking’ is key ? A team-building event, where one is expected to be up-close-and-personal with your cohorts? A learning symposium where you’re barraged with information and endless intellectual discussion?

I learned a few tricks that helped me unfurl from the fetal position and optimize my learning.

1. Take a few coffee breaks alone. Often, as soon as break time comes up, people tend to congregate and discuss what they think about what that guy said or that crazy exercise they did with those tennis balls. Sure, take part in a few of those conversations, but not all. It’s a good time to walk away from everyone. Look out the window, stare at an apple, check out some art… anything but talk to another human.

2. Go on long walks. When the group breaks for the day, before you head to the social cocktail event, go out on your own for a bit. I had a wonderful walk in London (Ontario) this week where I went to see the Thames River, which unlike it’s namesake, is a peaceful, soft-flowing brook, perfect ambience for self-reflection.

3. Find a person to help ground you. Remember, you’re not alone. There is likely someone going through the same thing and you can confide in that person. It helps to have someone who understands.

4. Connect with home. For me, it was my parachute. Your family, your partner, your friends, your dog. Anything that brings you mentally back to your happiest place in the world is worth as many visits as you can fit in.

And again, you’re not alone.  There are plenty of introverts among us.   When you’re feeling overwhelmed and your instinct is to run to your room and barricade the door until the conference is over – – take a breath, tell your colleagues you need a moment and find a place to be alone. They will understand and they will let you go.

You can survive many compromises and interactions, but never the absence of a very human need for self-retreat.  When the Quantum of Solitude stands at zero… you’ve got to get away to save yourself.