red-head boy with teacher on zoom

2020: Socially Decentralized, Not Socially Distant

            Are there any aspects of society you feel have benefited from living in the midst of a pandemic? I don’t want to minimize the pain and sorrow we have felt: many of us experienced the devastating death of a loved one due to the coronavirus (unfortunately, I did), know those who contracted it, or even became sick ourselves. But the overall effect of the virus has had, in my mind, not only dilatory repercussions, but some cultural changes that are things I am truly grateful for—and I wonder if it is the same for you.

            For example, a huge outcome of being forced to stay home was my family’s introduction to Zoom. Because of COVID, last summer I participated in several satisfying Zoom meetings with extended family that I almost literally never see. I saw cousins, second-cousins, aunts, my mom, my dad—all on Zoom—and we were scattered across the country! What on earth! My dad was on Zoom? Yep! He was 84 at his first online experience, and I’m very proud of him for that! Did you and your family do something like this? Zoom is here to stay, and I bet we all know how to work it! This is huge! We can now connect, directly, face-to-face (so to speak—stick with me now!) even if we are a million miles away from each other! It does take access—someone must have access—but even in our pre-COVID world, our society was already hanging out online. And now we’ve got the greatest generation joining us, in an easy way, from home! This is not only transformational for our society, but it has become the norm, putting at our fingertips the ability to meet people a world away, simultaneously eliminating much of our social-distancing angst.

            Dare I suggest another decentralized benefit: the schools. Okay, hear me out! Through the social distancing mandates on our schools, all of a sudden, we as a society have been forced to pay closer attention to what is going on in schools, what our kids are learning, and who our teachers are. Because of COVID, now moms and dads know more directly the content of curriculum, methods of teaching, and individuals who are pouring into our kids’ lives in a way our society hasn’t known since parents regularly taught their children in the nineteenth century (just a few years ago!).

            Now, I do realize that extremely difficult circumstances have occurred for many, many families whose parents were both working and for whom the concern of childcare became an overwhelming factor. Under duress, many had to make difficult choices regarding childcare and maybe some did not even have these choices. But, there are two sides to the COVID coin, and I am highlighting here the flip side—that of this virus forcing us to think about some important things: Are my kids getting the best education we can offer? Is it best for us both to work at the same time? What about this: Have we as a family been able to orchestrate things at home in a way that brings us closer together? Maybe the answer to these questions is a resounding YES! Rethinking these and the other questions is not unhealthy; it is beneficial. It is like a reset—a restart, one which can help us be creative in moving forward in our family life.

            I’m wondering what your experiences were this year, particularly in regards to childcare, school options, or Zoom! What worked? What didn’t? What would you like to stay? ~nja

White coffee cup with finger pointing to "See the Good" on it

2020: Beneficial?

            Have you recovered from 2020 yet? I’m not quite there yet, and I have trouble even thinking about 2020 in light of those terms!  “Recovery” implies a need to recapture a lost but beneficial state due to illness, malaise, discontent—even injustice—and I hate having in my mind an image of a time in my life that is so fraught with pain. I wonder if you feel this way as well?

            Still, recovery from a situation such as this can help us rethink what has happened. For example, is it possible to think about this past year as a good thing? Was there anything beneficial that happened—and I mean specifically in response to COVID and its associated repercussions?

            For me, the answer is a resounding YES! In spite of the constraints put upon us, whether by the virus, a governing body, or an individual, in my opinion, some wonderful things, and even purifying things, happened not only to me, but to our society, directly as a result of the limitations we experienced over the past year.

            What am I talking about?

            Well, in a broad sense, our society became decentralized in many ways. And in certain aspects of this decentralization, we became more flexible, more creative, and more aware of what our lives were like, forcing us to modify and even abandon some things.

            For example, the most immediate consequence for me personally was in my teaching. Almost literally overnight, the composition courses I taught went fully online. In fact, within one week, my university trained me to use the online environment so that my students would continue to succeed. Don’t misunderstand me—this training and mental shift was not easy. It was a brand-new digital download! But, simultaneously, I became doubly marketable. What? Yes! All of a sudden, I was much more at ease, by being forced out of my comfort zone of the face to face classroom, with navigating around Blackboard, a common platform for courses but which demanded a certain nimbleness online. This means that not only was I prepared for my students, but I would have the option of moving anywhere in the world if I wanted to—while still remaining connected to my beloved Sam Houston State University. This unexpected situation also pointed me directly to becoming officially certified to teach online—not just in an emergency, but by choice, deliberately, with an eye towards doubling my teaching skills and creating a friendly online environment for my students.

            In a flash, my teaching transformed into something full-bodied and flexible. I could go or be anywhere to do what I loved most! This was a great thing! In spite of the difficulties, COVID forced me to stretch into new areas professionally.

            So, what about you? What changed in your life for the better because of the past year? Name one thing, and ask yourself if you used that one thing to develop yourself personally or professionally. ~nja