The covid-19 pandemic has caused widespread death, heartache, and suffering. By the end of the pandemic, an untold number of lives will have been lost and livelihoods destroyed. The deep and lasting negative effects of the pandemic cannot be denied and should not be minimized or downplayed. With that being said, in the belief that crisis and tragedy results in not only misery and suffering but also opportunities for growth, I humbly submit what I view as 10 silver linings of the pandemic.
1. The acceleration of technological adoption
The necessity of limiting face-to-face interactions has brought with it an acceleration in technological adoption. Telemedicine, for example, the practice through which doctors and nurses can meet with, consult, and at times even treat patients virtually, has become more common, increasing efficiency (when implemented properly) and better enabling medical providers to care for patients with mobility limitations.
2. Improvements in public health
New public health measures have been adopted, some of which will fade as the pandemic recedes, but some of which may continue post-COVID, bringing about long-term improvements in public health. Contact-tracing systems, for example, which have been created or fortified (to varying degrees of success around the world), can be used for monitoring and containing the spread of diseases other than COVID-19, including novel viruses that may arise in the future.
3. Scientific advancements
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have become the first ever vaccines to be authorized for distribution that use what is known as mRNA to produce antibodies for protection against a virus, holding promise for the use of such an approach to combat other viruses as well.
4. The rebounding of the environment and nature
The decrease in economic activity due to the pandemic has brought with it a slowdown in carbon emissions throughout the world. And nature has begun to fill the void that humans have largely vacated as a result of sheltering at home, such as in the waterways of Venice.
5. (The potential for) better governance
Though there is evidence showing that the quality of democracy and respect for human rights has declined since the pandemic began (due to things such as elections being postponed or cancelled, leaders declaring emergency powers, and “out-groups” (such as immigrants) being scapegoated), the pandemic has exposed at least some populist leaders who denigrate experts and distort objective truths. And economic stimulus packages that have been implemented to counter the economic fallout of the pandemic have demonstrated the importance of government in protecting the vulnerable.
6. Working from home
Though working from home can come with distractions and temptations (along with other downsides such as increasing feelings of isolation and loneliness), the ability for some to work from home through the pandemic has brought with it benefits such as saving time by eliminating commutes, providing more flexibility in managing one’s work-life balance, and increasing job satisfaction for those who prefer it.
7. The shift to online learning
Similar to the shift to working from home, the shift to online learning has brought with it downsides, including, but not limited to, higher levels of student disengagement, a likely increase in educational achievement gaps, and the strain that home-schooling has put on working parents. But the shift to online learning has also forced a rethink of how technology can and should be used for learning. When in-person learning fully resumes, the best practices can be preserved.
8. The disruption of habitual behavior and cultivation of new skills and hobbies
Crises that disrupt daily routines can lead to opportunities for personal growth. Sheltering at home has provided opportunities for becoming more well-rounded by exploring new interests or hobbies such as baking, gardening, and painting.
9. More family time
Maybe for some it has felt like too much. But most of us likely will not think, “I wish I would have worked more and spent less time with my family” when we are older.
10. A reevaluation of what is important in life
Broadly, the disruption caused by the pandemic may compel us to reconsider our priorities. In the usual day-to-day grind, there may be little time to reflect on big questions such as, “What makes for a meaningful life?” The pandemic slowed us down (aside from notable exceptions such as health care workers who have been heroic in the fight against COVID). If at least some of the extra time as a result of sheltering at home leads to meaningful consideration of how best to live our lives, which then translates into improvements in how we actually do live our lives moving forward, it will have been time well-spent.
Dr. David R. Dreyer is a political science professor at Lenoir-Rhyne University.