The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture

The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture


As I bring this essay to a close, I want to focus on two obvious questions. First, what do we do collectively and individually about the virus at this point? Second, what can we anticipate as the long-term outcomes of this pandemic? I will consider answers that might be directed toward all citizens of our world as well as those that might be directed specifically to Americans. I rely heavily (as I have done throughout this essay) on the analysis offered by Nicholas Christakis.  I turn first to actions that might be taken.

What We Have to Do Collectively

Christakis (2020, p. 320) provides us with important guidance regarding actions we can take (and must take) together. These recommendations are relevant to any society (though I think they are particularly relevant to the American culture with its rampant individualism and proliferation of silos). He begins by pointing once again to the initial invisibility of the virus.

Another reason that the commitment to addressing the pandemic waned over the summer of 2020 was that the serious illnesses and deaths were still mostly happening offstage. While over one hundred thirty thousand people had died by the end of June, nearly half of them were in nursing homes, already isolated from the broader society, and most other people who died early on did so in hospitals that were overrun, so they often died alone. This meant that few people had personal experience with the impact of the virus. People sheltered separately, and those who died were not numerous enough or visible enough—except to their families—to highlight the threat, as we saw. Yet, as the pandemic continues to unfold in late 2020 and 2021, there will be more deaths, and as more people become personally familiar with the disease because they know someone who has died, attitudes will change.

With this increased awareness (and I would suggest collective efforts to ensure this awareness) comes the critical implementation of nonpharmaceutical interventions (including testing)

Over the immediate pandemic period, in order to return to any semblance of normalcy, the United States will require much more widespread use of masks (and laws and policies mandating their use) and much more widespread testing (on the order of twenty thirty million tests per day nationwide-as of July 2020, the country was performing only roughly eight hundred thousand per day. Basically, every worker who is in contact with other workers need to be regularly tested. If the tests cost ten dollars each, the national expense would be about one and a half billion dollars per week, but that is still much cheaper than another massive economic shutdown. The virus is far too prevalent in most states in the United States to use contact tracing as an effective tool, though other sorts of electronic tools could help facilitate voluntary self-isolation.

While his recommendations now seem a bit dated (though less than a year old!), they point to an even broader issue. The actions that Christakis believes we must take involve important psychological processes. It is not just a matter of either economics or politics. Persuasion must accompany any efforts at compliance. The psychological perspectives offered in this essay and those offered by Dr. Silberberg can be valuable in helping to engage Christakis’s recommendations in a successful manner—especially when Varda Silberberg’s template is used as a systemic guidebook.


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About the Author

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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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