COVID-19 Challenges Negative Specialness

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Alexandra Levit. Read on to learn why we need to avoid negative specialness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m an author and researcher on the near-future workforce.

I’ve had my own business for 15 years.

I have two children who live at home.

All of this means that I’m reasonably qualified to talk about what the COVID-19 crisis is currently doing to working parents.

Short answer: It’s resulting in a huge amount of stress. We parents must show up (some virtually and some in-person), maintain semi-regular hours and do most of the same tasks our managers expected before. Some of us are small business owners or sole proprietors who are frantically trying to replace lost income.

At the same time, our children need us. They need us every hour – to entertain them, to help them with their online schoolwork, to pry them off screens, and to soothe their fears and commiserate about the loss of control we all feel.

And. We. Can’t. Leave. The. House.

Social distancing is, hopefully, working to reduce the number of people who will get seriously ill and die from COVID-19. But it’s going to need to go on a lot longer. The isolation, essential as it may be, may have mental health consequences worse than the physical threat. With no end in sight, we working parents are exhausted, beleaguered, and at times hysterical.

I’ve been working with companies to establish flex and remote work policies for nearly a decade. I’m continuing to do so now, albeit with a greater sense of urgency. You know what keeps coming up? Leaders feel this is an unprecedented situation, and they are certain their workforces are suffering the most.

I’d argue that the former is true, but the latter? Not so much.

Negative specialness is the belief that we have it worse than other people, that life is somehow uniquely unfair to us. We need to remember that while no one is a fan of the current situation, we are all in it together. No one wanted their spring break trip canceled. No one wants to homeschool their children for the rest of the year. No one wants to run on a treadmill instead of the lake just as spring is blooming because the mayor decided it wasn’t safe. No one wants to disinfect every piece of paper or food item that comes through the door. No one wants to put their lives completely on hold for the foreseeable future.

Compared to most humans, we’ve still had it relatively easy. Think of the countless wars, plagues, famines, and natural disasters with which our ancestors had to contend. Adapting to difficult circumstances is part of the human condition.

So what do we do now? Well, as the British started saying before World War II: we keep calm and carry on. We do our work to the best of our ability and protect our health as much as we can. We ease up on our parenting expectations and just try to make sure our children feel loved and secure. We check in on loved ones who are physically and psychologically vulnerable. We resist the urge to contribute to social media’s outrage culture. We follow the advice of pandemic experts and our local governments.

And above all, if we can remember we’re not special – that every company, business owner, and family is experiencing hardships – maybe we can be kinder and more empathetic. We can use technology to virtually build a stronger community in our fractured, polarized world, so when things re-stabilize, we will be better than we were before.

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