July 1, 2020 – Truth in an Age of Untrustworthiness

A Note from the Past

Early in the morning on March 14, 2020 I could not sleep. I was doing a two-day strategy planning session in Jackson, Mississippi and I was to start the second day later in the morning. I had made the decision to start the drive home immediately at the close of the session instead of waiting until the next day, Sunday the 15th, to start after a good night’s sleep.

Why the change in plans?

The day before, Friday, March 13, the COVID-19 natioanl pandemic emergency had been declared. Since I couldn’t sleep, I wrote the following blog that I never posted. Still, it inspired me, two days later, to begin daily blogging. First as Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place (for 77 straight days) and now as The Daily Drivel. Today marks 108 consecutive days of posting a blog. Before you now it, it will be 110!

I’ve been taking in and sitting with all the news over the past couple of days about COVID-19. When I sat down to write today’s blog, I accidently clicked on the “Drafts” section and this unsent blog popped up. I began to read it and had a terrible, sinking feeling. At this point I want to quip something funny like one of the famous sayings from Yogi Berra, specifically, “It’s deja vu all over again.” However, it isn’t funny. It is tragic. March 13th is nearly four months ago but, folks, we are right back there like in some kind of cruel Groundhog Day but without Bill Murray to make us laugh about it.

I’ve decided to run that blog today unedited and in its entirety. Bear in mind it was written the morning after the declaration of national emergency. Mississippi, where I was working, would have its first reported case of coronavirus later that day. None of us were expected to be sheltering-in-place more than two weeks. Who could have imagined we’d be in the place we are today with 2.6 million Americans confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 130,000 dead?

I know this is going to sound nonsensical but I wish it were not still March 14, 2020. The only difference, it seems, is that I’m writing from my office at home and not the Hampton Inn Downtown Jackson.


Truth in an Age of Untrustworthiness

Today, March 14, 2020, two opposite things are true: Life goes on as normal and nothing about life is normal.

I’m writing this from Jackson, Mississippi where I finish up some work with a really terrific client today. What is normal about today is that I’m doing work I often do. I have done strategy planning sessions with many organizations. There is nothing new in this work for me. It is part of my normal life.

However, nothing about how I am doing this work this time is normal. Because of the spread of the coronavirus we are: practicing social distancing (keeping six feet away from one another), regular hand washing and sanitizing, trying to keep our hands away from our faces, and wiping down every surface we can in our meeting spaces a couple of times each day. Notice I said “meeting spaces.”

The only meeting rooms available to us were too small to accommodate all 15-17 people seated at a distance of six feet apart (an appropriate social distance). The group was divided into two – one meeting in a small conference room in my hotel and the other meeting in a small conference room at the organization’s offices. Using Zoom videoconferencing we are able to work together from our separate locations. It worked, but nothing was normal about it.

I know. Some of you reading this will see this as an over reaction on my part and that of my client. I’m okay with that. Actually, we had some fun with the “abundance of caution” here as well. I get it. During uncertain times when we are feeling a bit shaken, humor is an important resource. What I don’t get are the people who see the coronavirus thing as a big joke or even a hoax. I know. This is America, the land of the free where we are all entitled to our own thoughts, beliefs, and speech – no matter how ill informed, damaging, or hurtful they may be. If it were not for this freedom, I couldn’t be writing this post.

Here’s the problem though. We live in an age of untrustworthiness. As Americans, we have been lied to by many different people – too many of them in leadership – in the past and present. Some have invented conspiracy theories and outright hoaxes.

  • Some have lied because they erroneously believed they were serving a greater good by being less than candid.
  • Some are pathological liars.
  • Some are innocent, ignorant, and well intended – but pass on things they’ve heard from a “reliable source” but which is still neither reliable nor true.
  • Some are just plain evil and use lies to create chaos and confusion to their own benefit.

Be careful about “who” you read into what you just read. The “who” is all of us. Though some of you will believe I’m referring to a particular leader or groups of leaders and some will believe I’m referring to the media. Nope.

I don’t always appreciate how addiction to ratings and revenue often drives the media to make meaningless stories important and sensational stories even more sensational. Nonetheless, I believe they have, on the whole, tried to do more good than harm with their reporting of the Novel Coronavirus. Even in the media there are bad actors who hold to political loyalties and party lines rather than the truth. I believe the media has been trying to get our attention long enough to focus on a real threat while others would prefer to distract us from it.

The reason for a lie never really matters because the damage of the lie is still the same. It sows mistrust, lack of confidence, and we find ourselves living in an age of untrustworthiness.

My professional field is leadership not public health. However, I have spent the majority of my career working on matters related to public health. I’ve had the privilege of working with local, county, and state public health departments around the United States, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and major health and medical research universities. When it comes to matters of public health, I do not listen to our leaders or the media but directly to the people from the public health world. Sometimes, of course, leaders or the media may be channels by which public health messages get out so it is impossible to avoid them altogether. As good consumers, though, it is our obligation to pull back the curtain on leaders and the media to assess the quality of the information they are passing on.

We are in a moment when the clear, factual voice of public health is still struggling to be heard through the political rhetoric. In this moment, I believe the truth is to be found in what public health people are trying to tell us. If they could get through to us, here is what I believe they’d want us to hear:

  • We have a much bigger problem than we’ve been led to believe because too little is being done too late. The coronavirus did not just “pop up” in the past few weeks as some leaders would have us believe. Our leaders have known about it and its potential as a very serious threat since early January. They were warned by the epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on January 21 that cases of the virus were expected in the United States and globally. Still, our leaders put out information that was less than candid about the risk. In what may be the race of our lives, the coronavirus had a nearly 10 week head start on us and we have just barely left the starting blocks.
  • Infections are growing exponentially which means far more of us will become sick and die than what we ever imagined. The mathematicians have worked out the numbers for us. Epidemiologists tell us that the number of coronavirus cases doubles ever six days at its current rate of growth. If it continues at that rate, we will hit 1 million cases in the U.S. by the end of April. Two weeks later, by the middle of May, we will have 4 million cases. The mortality rates for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may as low as 3% to 5% but recent re-estimations of death rates published on March 12 show they may be as high as 15%, even 20%. More fun with math…Do you know how many American’s died of the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919? The final toll is estimated at 675,000. How does this compare with the potential death toll for COVID-19? You can do the math yourself to come up with the truly frightening number of deaths which could result from COVID-19. Remember, the Spanish Flu first appeared in the United States in January 1918 in Kansas. It came in two waves, with the second more deadly than the first.

Tell me, please. Are we simply picking up where we left off on March 14th? It seems so.


The return of weird al wednesday

So, weirdly, people really liked Weird Al Wednesday last week. So much so that Mike, a regular reader from here in Maryland, sent me this wonderful performance by Weird Al when he did a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR. Enjoy!


chickenman – episode 74

Chickenman continues his flight across the Atlantic Ocean all the while confusing and befuddling an airline pilot who spots the Wonderful Weekend Warrior on his trek.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

2 thoughts on “July 1, 2020 – Truth in an Age of Untrustworthiness”

  1. Thanks, Mike! Actually, I remember this show and really liked it. I appreciate you bringing it back to my attention.

  2. It may be senility, or just the way I’ve been since I was 12-but I’m not sure if I sent this to you before and wanted to send it because I believe in is on your golf course-Bob Dylan had a satellite radio show and here’s the archives. It’s just as you’d imagine Bob Dylan as radio dj. Not angling fior another shout out on the blog, but sure felt like a paycheck when I got one today

    http://www.themetimeradio.com/cat/themetime/season1/

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