The three big ways COVID-19 is changing who we are | Monday Morning Coffee

March 30, 2020 7:08 am

(Screen capture from The Conversation)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Welcome to another working week of social distancing. All of us have spent the last few weeks making major re-calibrations in our daily routines. And if you don’t live in one of the 22 counties that’s currently under a stay-at-home order, you’re probably wondering when yours will be next.

What is constant, it feels like, is the certainty that we’ll be different as a nation once we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. And this morning, we’re turning things over to University of Maryland psychology professor , who highlights the three, big ways the COVID-19 pandemic has already changed us as a nation. He wrote the piece below for The Conversationwhere it first appeared.

For most Americans, the coronavirus pandemic represents a completely unprecedented circumstance, as novel as it is life-changing. No event in recent history has affected us as profoundly and pervasively.

Not only does it remind us of our physical fragility, it undermines economic security, throws daily routines topsy-turvy, wreaks havoc on plans and isolates us from friends and neighbors.

I am a psychologist who studies human motivation and its impact on what we feel, how we think and what we do. I see that little by little, the stressful external forces this pandemic unleashed are exerting a deep internal effect. Little by little, they are changing who we are and how we relate to people and the world.

The pandemic affects our psyches three ways: It influences how we think, how we relate to others and what we value.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – MARCH 18: A member of the health care staff from the Community Health of South Florida, Inc. (CHI) prepares to test people for the coronavirus in the parking lot of its Doris Ison Health Center on March 18, 2020 in Miami, Florida. CHI said the testing for COVID-19 will be from Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

1. Our changed sense of security

This crisis has induced wide reaching uncertainty. We do not know what to think or how to make heads or tails of these completely unfamiliar circumstances.

Who will be affected? Will our loved ones? How quickly? Will tests be available? Will we survive? How long will this last? What about our work? Our income?

The combination of uncertainty and danger is a recipe for severe angst. It feeds an intense desire for certainty, better known to psychologists as the need for cognitive closure.

Once aroused, the need for closure fosters the craving for reliable information, the acute desire to dispel the paralyzing ambiguity that engulfs us. We long for clarity and guidance, a “light at the end of the tunnel” – a tunnel that at this moment appears without end.

Glued to our TV sets, we become breaking news junkies, hoping against hope that the next cycle will finally provide the enlightenment that keeps eluding us.

Research on the need for closure tells us much more: Under conditions of diffuse uncertainty, people are drawn, as if by a magnet, to simplistic solutions and black-and-white reasoning.

Some gravitate to the pole of denial that nothing is wrong at all, others to that of utter panic, the belief that the worst is sure to come and that the end is near. Rumors are circulated widely and seized upon uncritically.

This is the time where steady, reassuring leadership is desperately needed. It is the time, too, when authoritative, confident direction is much preferred over flexible, laissez-faire guidance.

We need to be told what to do, plain and simple. This is no time for complex deliberations.

2. Our changed needs

When their need for closure rises, people become “group-centric,” which means they yearn for cohesion and unity.

Patriotism is elevated but so, often, is nationalism, the idea that our nation is superior to others, better at handling the crisis that foreigners have propagated to begin with.

The coronavirus pandemic is scary. Everyone can be infected. No one is exempt. No matter what your station in life, your status, power or popularity, the virus still can get you.

This possibility evokes an overriding sense of fragility and vulnerability. Ample research attests that with one’s feelings of control and personal agency at an ebb – such as in infancy, in sickness or old age – one’s dependence on others rises.

This prompts putting social relations at a premium, strengthening one’s attachment to others, boosting the appreciation of one’s loved ones, family and friends.

One consequence of our helplessness in face of the pandemic is our greater sociability, a yearning for warmth and succor, the realization that we need others, that we cannot hack it alone.

3. Our changed values

Along with the growing attachment to others comes a subtle shift in our morals.

Communal values of cooperation, consideration and caring are prioritized, whereas individualistic ones of prestige, popularity and power lose some of their cachet.

Our cultural ideals morph accordingly. In times of crisis, we celebrate and accord major significance to persons who serve communitarian values, extend a helping hand to others, sacrifice their self-interests for the common good, exhibit empathy and model humanity.

Fascination with fame and riches is diminished; it takes a back seat to admiration for simple acts of kindness.

The coronavirus pandemic alters who we are, affecting diverse facets of our psyche.

We may approve of some of the changes – toward stronger communal bonds and humanitarian values – and disapprove of others – closed-mindedness, black-and-white thinking. Whether we like it or not, the immense crisis we are facing brings out the best in us, but also the worst in us.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Our partners at explain how one governor’s actions highlight the strengths — and shortcomings — of state-led interventions.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has underlined warnings for Pennsylvanians to stay away from aged family members living in nursing and personal care homesAssociate Editor Cassie Miller reports.

As of midday Sunday, there were 3,394 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. We’ve been charting the illness in these continuously updated maps and graphs.

Capital-Star Philly Correspondent Nick Field takes a deep dive into the results of Bucks County’s 18th House District special election.

From the weekend, Gov. Tom Wolf says state officials are still waiting to see what Pennsylvania will get out of the $2 trillion stimulus package that President Donald Trump signed into law. Elizabeth Hardison has the story.

The Philadelphia school district will spend $11 million on ChromeBooks for students who don’t have computers. A Comcast executive will cover $5 million of that cost. And the cable behemoth is providing free WiFi access in the city, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman looks at the ‘deadly feedback loop’ between the Trump White House and Fox News. And a University of Florida expert offers six ways to cope with boredom during Life in Quarantine.

(Image via

Pennsylvania’s prisons have been quarantined after an inmate tested positive for COVID-19, the Inquirer reports.
The Wolf administration has laid off about 2,500 employees as the state’s fiscal picture continues to darken, the Post-Gazette reports.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has asked Pennsylvanians to wear masks when they go outside, PennLive reports.
Coronavirus cases are ‘swamping’ St. Luke’s Hospital in the Poconos, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are helping to develop an at-home COVID-19 testWHYY-FM reports.
Delaying the tax filing deadline will cause ‘significant disruption’ to the annual budget debate, the Pa. Post reports.
New York has pushed its April 28 primary to June 23, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
Time TBA:
 Daily COVID-19 briefing.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning, chronologically, to Dan Hayward, of Novak Strategic Advisors, and Vicki Vellios Breiner, of PennLive, both of whom celebrated at the tail end of last week. Continued belated best wishes go out to Friend O’the BlogAdam Klein, of Dauphin County, and Elizabethtown College poli.sci guy Kyle Kopko, both of whom celebrated Sunday. And best wishes go out this morning to longtime reader, Mary Lou Doyle, who celebrates today. Congratulations and best wishes all around.

A Hearty Morning Coffee Mazel Tov!
Goes out to our former PennLive colleague Kelly Leighton, who welcomed baby Keegan Joseph Smith into the world on Friday. Welcome to the world, little man. Surely a blessing during our uncertain time.

Heavy Rotation.
We’re going for some musical comfort food this morning. Here’s the wonderful “Weather to Fly,” by the equally wonderful Elbow, caught live a few years back at Jodrell Bank.

Monday’s Gratuitous Pop Music History Link.
Today, in 1974, New York City’s own, The Ramonesperformed live in front of an audience for the first time. To have been on hand for that one…

And now you’re up to date.

The Conversation

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.