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The present residents of planet earth have experienced just over a year of the largest disruption of daily life ever to have challenged the world’s population.    Yes, there have been pandemics in the past.   There have been more deaths in the past.    However, I venture to state; never before have such a large percentage of the world’s population had their daily lifestyle disrupted on such a massive scale.

Around the world, we have been inundated with news stories initiated by a microorganism that has dominated our ability to live, work, travel, communicate and play.   Perhaps less has been written from a personal perspective.   So, I decided to do my own little bit of research.

Together with my friend Mary in Arizona USA, we convened a meeting:  9 of the participants were from South Africa, and 10 from America.   We asked them to speak for 2 minutes to the question, “How have the restrictions of the past year affected you on a personal level?”

Surely not a representative sample, as those taking part in this mini-survey were all in the second half of their life, and fall into the middle class.   Maybe this is the cohort that was least affected by the restrictions imposed by governments all over the world restricting the liberty of the populations under their control.

Introversion and Extroversion

Many of the participants mentioned their self-assessment of their personality on the introversion/extroversion continuum.    As would be expected, participants who see themselves less needy of social interaction adapted very well to the zoom room.   Many went as far as to say that their needs were met by the type of meeting in which we were all participating.

A Strange Surprise

Farzana is a medical representative who shocked the group when she told us that a few of the doctors she visited were in denial about Covid-19.   When I questioned her about this finding it turns out that two of those doctors hailed from Central Europe and the third one was Afrikaans speaking.   Maybe these personal details helps to explain their conservatism!

A More Universal Experience

Sybil lives in Sea Point, an upmarket coastal suburb of Cape Town.   She is used to looking out of the window of her flat and viewing scores of people enjoying the promenade and the swings, while they exercise on the beachfront.  She experienced a macabre feeling of loss when observing the quietness of this territory during the lockdown.   A great contrast to the usual hub of activity.

My Personal Story

Something that has been a positive for me.   As the owner of two Whippets who play a dominant role in helping me to maintain my emotional equilibrium, I was freed of one of my internalised feelings of guilt.   No longer did I have to worry about how long I would leave Blanco and Freddy on their own while I pursued my daily perambulations.    My activities have become far more home centred, as I now spend more time with my appreciative canine companions!

Do we Plan our Lives?

For me, it was interesting to note the variation people expressed regarding the degree to which they either plan their lives or spontaneously capitalise on opportunities as they arise.   Corel expressed the incentive she experienced to look at what she and her husband would be doing with the years that remain to them.   Whereas Duncan described himself as an opportunist who was happy to await events and then make the most of his possibilities as they arose.

New Initiative

Had it not been for Covid-19 this lively international group of seniors would not have met.  Mary and I who are the co-initiators of this group which we have named “The Curious and Inquisitive Wisdom Seekers,” would not have even imagined such a gathering just a year ago.   We met in a Zoom Room run by The Golden Civilisation, and have become friends.   Maybe the modern equivalent of the pen pals of old!  We have a warm and supportive relationship which has allowed us to form this novel group of awake and aware citizens from around the world.

Our First Meeting

It is said, “You should never allow a good crisis to go to waste.”  What are you doing to enhance your life during this unique and challenging time?”  This was the question we asked the participants to consider when we first met.    It was surprising the amount of positivity that emerged from this discussion.    Many contributors have forged new relationships with people and events.   Gratitude for what we have has been enhanced.   Appreciation of both our material benefits and natural resources were named as items for which we could be very thankful.

Some Comments from the Chat at this Meeting
  • I found this the most heart-warming, inspiring and energising experience.
  • Wonderful experience. Amazing people.
  • Great to connect with a wider group, interesting the similarities on different continents. After all; we are all humans!
Subsequent Meetings

A lively discussion of Roman Krznaric’s TED Talk on “The Good Ancestor” was the stimulus for the next meeting.   This philosopher’s research and insight into the habits of consumption and values of future generations formed the bedrock for us all to consider our long term priorities.

On another occasion, one of our American participants, Dave, led us on a deeply insightful discussion on our belief structures.   He made us aware that during these changing times we may need to re-examine our value system and introspect on whether our daily habits are dominated by conscious or unconscious beliefs and behaviours.

Here are some of the topics we discussed:
  • What myth/story/map organizes your thinking, values, and behaviour?
  • What are some of your maps and how were they formed?
  • How does our age invite a paradigm shift?
  • How can we help others to identify the map/myth/story that organizes their beliefs?
Concluding Comments

I consider myself very lucky to be part of one of the least challenged cohorts during this pandemic.   I believe that single mothers who have to find time to work whilst home-schooling their children simultaneously have had a very stressful time.   There is no doubt that people from poor communities have suffered the most.    All thinking people have been challenged to re-evaluate their lifestyle.

Man’s Footprint and its consequences

Do you believe there is a connection between the appearance of the virus that causes Covid-19 and the disturbance of the natural environment?  I posed this question recently in a meeting which had been transferred to an on-line app,  because of the current lockdown. The suggestions was met with silence other than the response of one participant who said, “Grace, do you believe there is an association?”    I could determine through the sound of his voice he was totally sceptical of my perspective.

“Yes,” I responded tentatively.   And then I found myself launching into my understanding of the present predicament. “I believe that because of our destruction of forests and savannahs, wild animals are venturing into populated areas, bringing us into the orbit of viruses which cause deadly diseases.”

Habit of Consumption

My comment was met with a deathly silence.   It is now one week later and I have been listening to some enlightening presentations in a range of on-line meetings.   Consistently I am hearing about the detrimental effects of the selfish habits of consumption perpetrated by the human species.  Whilst this tendency was recorded for the first time over a century ago, consumerism has seriously escalated during the past couple of decades, accelerating the deteriorating conditions of our environment.

Early Warnings of a Pandemic

Bill Gates in his TED talk of 2014 predicted this outbreak.   He lamented the fact that so much attention and money was being put towards the deterrence of a nuclear attack, but yet little was being done about the probability of a major attack by viruses in the near future.

Now, my concerns are around how we are going to live our lives when the period of quarantine is behind us and we find ourselves having to adapt to very different circumstances.    Those who are resilient and who welcome change will cope much better with the psychological and economic challenges of the immediate future.   We need to be prepared to have our value system challenged.  It will be a decade in which a major adaption of both life style and attitude will be demanded.

We will all Need to Change our Life Style and Values

I believe that the largest adjustments will need to be undertaken by those who are financially stable at this moment in time.   For some years I have been suggesting to my family and social circle that I believe that a key disconnect in our world is the acceleration of the size of the Gini Index.   That is the statistical measure of the distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor.    The larger the index, the greater the inequality.   I believe it is a crime that the 10 richest people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population.

I predict that the role of the professionals who deal with mental health problems will be very much in demand.   It is one thing to survive the present ordeal physically intact, but another to cope with the stresses of the situation and emerge without the effects of this traumatic experience embedded in our psyche.

Role of the Internet going Forward

There is no doubt that the role of the internet will be crucial in terms of future health and future business.   Being a boomer, and having learned the internet in my late 50’s, I am pleased that I did not grow up in an era that the internet formed a major part of my entertainment.

I have been using my computer for at least 6 hours a day for the past couple of weeks since I have not been allowed to leave my home except to shop, or to visit the doctor.   During that time I have not played one video game, nor have I visited my Facebook Website.   But I have discovered two outlets for my curiosity and my edification.    Chris Anderson or TED has been interviewing thought leaders on how best to navigate the present challenges of the lockdown.   And Elders for Climate Action have been running some beautiful seminars to help people to adapt to a life style which is more sustainable.

Yes, we are all going to need to adjust to a very new world.   We need to work on our resilience.   Maintain our physical health despite the confinement.   Ensure that our entertainment is directed toward finding healthy outlets rather than mindless pursuits.

Let us Hope a New and Better Era Emerges

We will come out of this with a greater understanding of the human condition.   Mankind has survived many challenges of the past.   After World War 2, new international organisations like the World Health Organisation were formed.   So, despite the hardship and the loss of life, let us be optimistic that mankind will find more sustainable ways to co-operate with each other and the planet on which we depend.

 

I had planned to concentrate on doing my weekly blog post first thing this morning. Not to become diverted by any other chores. However, it is now two hours later, and I have not yet started on my noble intention.

Some Diversions

Checking up on Croquet Result

Against my better judgement, I took a sneak preview of my inbox. No, I would not open any emails, but I would just check in case there is something personal requiring an urgent response. My goodness me – here are the results from the Croquet Tournament I participated in on Sunday morning. I must just check in here quickly.

This competition takes place over four months – one session happening on the last Sunday morning of the month from June to September. It is crucial for me to take a sneak preview of how the 16 competitors fared in the 90 matches which have been played thus far. Results have come in for the three sessions that have now taken place.

How am I doing? Unfortunately, not too well! There seems to be an error here, so just a quick email to Judy to check she has added all the results correctly! And, a double check I have not misinterpreted her score table. I had better make a print out of this complicated score sheet.  It will make it easier for me to study these multiple recorded scores.

What does Ellen Want

Then I must just find out what this woman Ellen is all about. Her name caught my attention when I snatched a quick review of incoming emails. Yes, she had sent me 3 free PDF’s – instructions about how to become a better blogger. She is now telling me that if I read them, let her know which is the most useful to me, I will then get a free consultation worth $97! I am so tempted to go and skim them. But no, I will restrain myself.

The Phone now Interrupts

Now there is a phone call. “Can I come and fill in at a bridge game this afternoon,” queries the caller. “Sorry,” I respond, “I have a commitment with my granddaughter this afternoon.” “Oh,” says my inviter, “I was just phoning anybody because someone dropped out of the bridge game this morning.”

Now I am really distressed. What does she mean by ‘anybody?’ I always thought I was ‘somebody’ and now I am being told I am ‘anybody’. Do I need to respond to this unconscious derogatory judgement from my caller?   Maybe I will let it pass.

Back to Blogging

I have been exploring the blogging scene for the past six months. No great results. Nothing too bad, either. I am trying to master Facebook in order to grow my following and have roped in my daughter’s young administrative assistant, to teach me how to integrate the Social Media into my repertoire of skills. Whew! It is quite a journey.

Facebook Challenges

How do people just pick up these skills and this knowledge?   Is it by trial and error? For me, it is far from intuitive. If truth were told, it is quite a slog. But then, this is all part of my aspirational lifestyle. I cannot preach the story about taking on new challenges if I personally shirk those opportunities. As a result of this blogging venture, I now have not only a personal Facebook page but A Mind of Grace page on Facebook, as well.  According to my teacher, I need to update these pages every day with enticing material. I need to like a whole bunch of new people. I have to respond to comments. I must comment on the blogs of other contributors. I need to update my profile. I must check up what people in my niche are doing. And, I thought this was going to be fun!

And Instagram as Well!

Now, my teacher wants me to become Instagram enabled, as well. Is it not enough that I use WhatsApp, and Facebook, and Blog? “No,” she says, “You need to use Instagram. That is where you need to be.” To use Instagram, you need to upload pictures from your cellphone. Now, that is a new activity for me. I can upload pictures from my computer, but for this social medium, I need to send them from my cellphone to the computer.

Skills New and Old

While I learned to touch-type 60 years ago, and can probably do about 40 words a minute on the keyboard, on the tiny cellphone, I can only input about 10 words a minute. This is excruciatingly painful. It is one thing to practice my croquet shots in order to improve my game, but do I now have to practice inputting data on my cellphone with my two thumbs? I suppose that is something for me to practice when I am in the bank waiting for my number to be called!

This is what Keeps me Going

Looking on the bright side, something exciting happened at 9pm last night. When checking my emails, I learned that the experimental blog I sent to Thrive Global has been accepted. So there I saw my piece on the prestigious site which is run by Adrianna Huffington.

My mamma may not be impressed, and my dadda may not be impressed, but I was pretty excited with this news. This exhilaration was because having been featured on Thrive Global I was being offered the facility to link my post on WhatsApp to my multiple contacts. Now, that was going to be fun. While it is not so great transferring data from WhatsApp to the computer, the reverse procedure was sure worthwhile. And, all I had to do was to follow the instructions sent by Thrive Global which were detailed on my screen.

Sometimes I become Over-excited!

I think I may have overdone it as the link was sent to all and sundry. Yes, the life of a blogger is not lacking in incident. The disappointment of not growing my list as fast as I would like to. The knowledge that I have so much to learn and master to be a ‘successful’ blogger. I need to create sales funnels, free offers, and lessons, and do surveys. The list does not end.

Completion

But, I have now written my morning blog! I have my first piece up on a prestigious website. So I am off to see the physiotherapist for treatment of my upper arm. This is an injury that has kept me off the tennis court for the past month. But, I will be back playing tennis soon as long as I am up-to-date with my blogging time-table!

The term antifragility was introduced into the English language by Nassim Taleb when writing his book of the same name which appeared in 2013.   I was somewhat chuffed to learn about this concept as it verified an observation I had made some 50 years ago.

My Observation

It was in the early days of my marriage.  Divorce was not nearly as common as it is today. Despite this fact, I did have within my social circle, sufficient acquaintances who had decided to terminate their marriage. I remember giving some thought to the fate of children whose parents divorced when they were still young.   I had noticed that the children of my friends who emerged from a family of divorce were either better adjusted psychologically than the average child, or had a greater number of psychological difficulties than the most of their peers.

An example of Antifragility

How does this relate to antifragility, you may ask?  To understand this term, we need first to understand that things such as glass objects are fragile, while articles made of steel are strong and robust.  But, what do we call something which grows in strength when offered a series of moderate setbacks?   This is what antifragility is all about.   Interestingly enough Taleb recognised this condition in the banking system when he was a successful investor and studied the ups and downs of the stock market.

Psychological and Physiological Antifragility

I am, however, more interested in how the term anti-fragility helps us to understand both psychological behaviour and the physiology of the body.  Small struggles of the mind and body tend to make us stronger.   If your muscles are not used they become weaker.  If our muscles are overused they are damaged.  But if our muscles are used a little bit more each day, or each week , they then grow stronger.  The same can be said of the immune system.  A few germs in the environment are necessary for the development of immunity.

Returning to my Early Experience

To return to my observation of many years ago, I now have an interpretation for this early hypothesis.  If the amount of stress of their parent’s divorce is handled optimally, the children can emerge with greater resilience; they become antifragile.  However, if the stress of the divorce procedure is beyond the capacity of the child to process, then that child will suffer emotional damage.

Resilience and Antifragility

Linda Graham is an American psychologist who has written a brilliant book on resilience. She describes resilience as the learned capacity to cope with adversity. Developing resilience over one’s lifespan illustrates the concept of anti-fragility. Graham in her latest weekly blog was referenced a book written by Johnathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff called the Coddling of the American Mind In this book, the authors document how child-rearing practices in America are overprotecting growing children. Parents are not allowing them to experience the challenges which have been a traditional part of growing up.

Over-protection

Today parents are so concerned about the physical safety of their children that there is a tendency to overprotect them. As a result, today children in cities have to be under parental protection 24 hours a day.  Children are no longer allowed to be on the streets without adult supervision.  Parents can be punished for allowing their children to participate in activities that the current law considers to be dangerous.  Thus a child cannot be allowed to go to the corner shop to buy a pint of milk or a loaf of bread.  The growing child does not participate in the tasks which allow them to develop their independence. Several decades ago, a child reared in the city could go to visit friends in the local neighbourhood, play in the streets, or make their way to the park without adult supervision.   Today these growth experiences are denied because of what many people perceive as over-protective regulations.

A Commencement Speech

The benefits of encouraging an antifragile lifestyle are beautifully illustrated in the words of John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, in his commencement speech to his son’s middle school:

He said, “From time to time in the years to come:

  • I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.
  • I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.
  • Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. ·
  • I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and the failure of others is not completely deserved either.  ·
  • I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.
  • Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

The Reader’s Contribution

Would you like to share your experience of the role of antifragility in your own life?  Let the other readers know how you have benefitted from the challenges you have overcome. How you have emerged with greater strength?