As we all try to make sense of how this global health crisis has impacted our personal and business relationships, several observations stand out to me.
- Countries where citizens have always been good at following rules have been faring comparatively well. Think about Germany, Korea, and Japan. I have joked in the past that what unites these three countries is that no pedestrian crosses the street when the light is red – even if it’s 3:00am and there are no cars anywhere in sight. While the new public health rules are more than a major inconvenience, they have largely been followed and all three countries have kept the number of deaths in check.
- When meeting friends and colleagues in Italy, France or Spain, you often exchanged two (or three!) kisses on the cheeks, along with a warm hug. That’s just the culture. Very welcoming, friendly, and open. Dinners with friends or family tended to go on for three hours or longer with everyone huddled closely around the table, deep in conversation while enjoying another glass of wine or espresso. Now all three countries are competing for the highest number of deaths caused by COVID-19.
- Smoking is still very common in Europe and Asia, especially among men over 60 years old. Early on during this pandemic there were a lot of reports that more men were dying from their infection than women. In some areas the ratio was 2 to 1. A physician described to me what COVID-19 can do to your lungs. Perhaps it should be no surprise that in addition to other pre-existing conditions, a history of smoking significantly increases your chances of not being able to beat this infection.
- Countries all around the world, and sometimes metropolitan areas within countries, have been on different timelines during this pandemic. Before calling a client or colleague in San Francisco, Houston, Paris, or Shanghai I used to compute the time difference in my head to make sure that it was an appropriate time for a call. Now I check the local news and public health sites to verify the time difference in the stage of the local epidemic. Some cities are 8 days behind me and some are three weeks ahead of me. It is important information to know for personal and professional relationships.
There will be many lessons learned from this crisis. For all of us alive today the situation is unprecedented. We have no one to talk to who has been through this so we have to rely on the medical and scientific experts as well as our own common sense. My father recently reminded me that my grandfather, born in 1900, was 18 years old when the Spanish Flu pandemic hit Germany. He used to talk about it using very dark language. My grandfather went on to study medicine and became a surgeon. My father followed in his footsteps.
Maybe young people experiencing this crisis, watching their parents and grandparents struggle with finances or their health, will grow up and aspire to become microbiologists or doctors. A whole generation around the world may decide that medical professionals and scientists are our real heroes and want to dedicate their lives to making sure another generation never experiences the staggering worldwide deaths, economic upheaval and health pandemic like this novel coronavirus virus has caused in our lives in the 21st century