Anticipatory Grief, Anxiety, and—of course—COVID-19

David Kessler, co-author of one of the classic books with Kübler-Ross detailing the 5 stages of grief, interviewed in the Harvard Business Review:

Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

He goes on to discuss ways to manage pandemic anxiety, including focusing on the present, mindfulness, etc.

And then the bombshell: He’s adding a sixth stage (Finding Meaning) to the classic five.

And, I believe we will find meaning in it. I’ve been honored that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s family has given me permission to add a sixth stage to grief: Meaning. I had talked to Elisabeth quite a bit about what came after acceptance. I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times. Even now people are realizing they can connect through technology. They are not as remote as they thought. They are realizing they can use their phones for long conversations. They’re appreciating walks. I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.

There will be a pre-COVID and post-COVID world, and they will not be the same. The question is how much of this tragedy can act as a hard reset, enabling us to stop the distraction, infighting, and isolation and start making progress on the things that really matter to us as individuals, as a society, and as a species.

Moral Humility & The Ethical Career

From Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac H. Smith’s “Building an Ethical Career

So how can you ensure that from day to day and decade to decade you will do the right thing in your professional life?

The first step requires shifting to a mindset we term moral humility—the recognition that we all have the capacity to transgress if we’re not vigilant. Moral humility pushes people to admit that temptations, rationalizations, and situations can lead even the best of us to misbehave, and it encourages them to think of ethics as not only avoiding the bad but also pursuing the good. It helps them see this sort of character development as a lifelong pursuit.

We all have a personal opportunity to make being good an active choice. I’ve always loved the view that being an ethical person isn’t a character trait but an endless series of (often challenging) conscious choices. We see so many examples of people who are good in some capacities but not others precisely because it’s sometimes easier and sometimes harder to make what are–at least in hindsight–clearly right or wrong choices.

Preparing for ethical challenges is important, because people are often well aware of what they should do when thinking about the future but tend to focus on what they want to do in the present. This tendency to overestimate the virtuousness of our future selves is part of what Ann Tenbrunsel of Notre Dame and colleagues call the ethical mirage.

Counteracting this bias begins with understanding your personal strengths and weaknesses. What are your values? When are you most likely to violate them? In his bookThe Road to Character, David Brooks distinguishes between résumé virtues (skills, abilities, and accomplishments that you can put on your résumé, such as “increased ROI by 10% on a multimillion-dollar project”) and eulogy virtues (things people praise you for after you’ve died, such as being a loyal friend, kind, and a hard worker). Although the two categories may overlap, résumé virtues often relate to what you’ve done for yourself, whereas eulogy virtues relate to the person you are and what you’ve done for others—that is, your character.

I often wonder how many of my goals or projects fall firmly into the wrong camp.

Many factors go into choosing a job—but in general people tend to overemphasize traditional metrics such as compensation and promotion opportunities and underemphasize the importance of the right moral fit. Our work and that of others has shown that ethical stress is a strong predictor of employee fatigue, decreased job satisfaction, lower motivation, and increased turnover.

And this brings us to a nice medical dovetail. How many physician jobs now exist within a bureaucratic or corporate structure that is counter to how we feel a physician should be forced to practice medicine and that is counter to the best interests of both the practitioner and patient? How did we ever let a 15-minute appointment become normal? For anything?

And lastly, helpful litmus tests: publicity, generalizability, and mirror:

Three tests can help you avoid self-deceptive rationalizations. (1) The publicity test. Would you be comfortable having this choice, and your reasoning behind it, published on the front page of the local newspaper? (2) The generalizability test. Would you be comfortable having your decision serve as a precedent for all people facing a similar situation? (3) The mirror test. Would you like the person you saw in the mirror after making this decision—is that the person you truly want to be?

These are important things to consider before any big decision. Yes, they’re basically all the golden rule–but how often do you forget to use it?

Believing Anything and Nothing

The political theorist Hannah Arendt once wrote that the most successful totalitarian leaders of the 20th century instilled in their followers “a mixture of gullibility and cynicism.” When they were lied to, they chose to believe it. When a lie was debunked, they claimed they’d known all along—and would then “admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Over time, Arendt wrote, the onslaught of propaganda conditioned people to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

– McKay Coppins, writing about political disinformation for The Atlantic.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is often quoted as saying that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

What microtargeting of vulnerable people has created is the opposite: minds that filter all ideas, opposing or not, through a distortion filter that makes them unable to think critically on anything. Facts don’t matter, because everything is just a predictable reaction based on a fundamental premise, world-view, or political exigency.

That article is extremely depressing. But if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if/when the internet became so drowned out by bots and misinformation noise that it becomes useless, you’d enjoy Fall by Neal Stephenson.

When Danger is Only Online

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, in an interview for Next Big Ideal Club:

Back in the 1990s, the Cold War was over, the fear of nuclear war was gone, the [United States] ran a surplus, the crime rate plummeted—and the music was pretty good, too. The risks kids were at from diseases, car accidents, and crime were all plummeting. It was the safest time ever.

But because of changes in the media environment, we were divorced from reality—we got a steady diet of stories about childhood abductions. Almost nobody gets abducted in the United States—there are about 100 true kidnappings a year in a country of 350 million people. It almost never happens, but each time it happens, especially if it happens to a middle-class white kid, there’s constant coverage.

Throughout history, there have been innovations that link us closer together, and whenever that happens, there are all kinds of unforeseen effects. Take the automobile—people can move around, so it changes sex life, and dating, and marriage. The automobile, the telephone, the airplane—all of these things have effects on society, and it takes decades for that to work out. But with social media, we’ve never had something come in so fast that was so transformative in changing social relationships.

And the problem is not the internet, and it’s not screen time. Research that I’m collecting shows that it’s not time spent watching Netflix, and it’s not even time on the computer. It’s specifically social media that has pushed us over the edge, and I think it is a major cause of the rise of depression and anxiety, [especially] for girls.

Had Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter never been invented, I do not think our politics would have blown up. I do not think Donald Trump would be president. I do not think Brexit would have happened. I do not think that our democracy would be as imperiled as it is. Of course, Facebook and Twitter do a lot of good things, too, but the downside is so severe that I’m beginning to worry that social media is incompatible with a functioning democracy.

I wonder.

Social media is seductive even though it’s most effective as a way to literally waste time. But I’m older than the generation Haidt is worried about. And even to me–as someone who has written exclusively on their own platform for over a decade and grew up with just AOL instant messenger–it’s amazing how easy is it to fall prey to the endless feed.

The Rise of the Consultancy

Management consultants insist that meritocracy required the restructuring that they encouraged—that, as Kiechel put it dryly, “we are not all in this together; some pigs are smarter than other pigs and deserve more money.” Consultants seek, in this way, to legitimate both the job cuts and the explosion of elite pay. Properly understood, the corporate reorganizations were, then, not merely technocratic but ideological. Rather than simply improving management, to make American corporations lean and fit, they fostered hierarchy, making management, in David Gordon’s memorable phrase, “fat and mean.”

From “How McKinsey Destroyed the Middle Class” by Daniel Markovits, subtitled “Technocratic management, no matter how brilliant, cannot unwind structural inequalities.”

I do enjoy his inclusion of Kiechel’s apt Animal Farm reference.