March 1999/March 2020

89 days of being bombed really sucked, but here's how I got by and you will too

This is an outlier edition of The Sociology of Business. It is the end of what feels like a very long week, and although I dislike confessionals and find them juvenile and self-absorbed, I decided to break my usual publishing schedule and re-share something that, in its original shorter version, resonated with a lot of those who read it. 

I have a past experience of an ominous, looming and all-encompassing disaster that may help some of you go through this.

Starting in March of 1999, NATO bombed Belgrade, where I am from, for 89 days. The situation was similar to COVID-19 pandemics in terms of having to grasp a life-threatening situation and of the mandate to stay at home. 

After the initial shock, patterns emerged. Not unlike Kübler-Ross stages of grief, they follow and interact each other.

1. A constant stream of information ceases to be useful and becomes counter-productive. It does nothing to inform us, and it only increases the sense of helplessness and anxiety. If I remember correctly, this phases comes a week or so in. I believe that a lot of us are right now at the beginning of it.

2. Human brain inevitably starts craving different stimulation. Daily news slowly recede in the background. They don’t go away, but become a soundtrack of our lives. We start doing and thinking about other things. We may start being creative again, getting new ideas, actually comprehending a book we are reading, enjoying a movie. This doesn’t mean that we don’t care, it’s a natural process of how the brain works. It protects itself.

3. Humans are adaptable. Even the direst situation becomes a new normal. We start to operate within the new reality. “Normal” life is a habit. This means that we need to develop new habits to “normalize” our existence. New ways of working, socializing, entertaining emerge. They start to feel natural. We may even keep some of them once the old normal returns.

4. A sense of unity forms that didn’t exist before. There’s a new sense of shared identity, and it’s strong. We are all in this together, and we are resolved to respond as a community. There will be moments of despair, but it’s easier when they are shared. We all lift each other up. The situation becomes us vs. them (in armed conflict), and in this instance, humanity vs. COVID-19

5: This will pass. It will undoubtedly be great when it does, but do not expect a massive shift. We won’t rush out on the streets and start hugging each other, and not only because social distancing seems to be here to stay. By then, we will be used to the new reality, so we will just get on with our lives. Sure, we will be happy to regain our individualism and independence, but we will also hopefully embrace them with the new wisdom of caring, connectedness, and putting community first.

I hope this helps. Stay smart and safe and do the best you can. If what I experienced and witnessed in the Spring of 1999 is any indicator, we are stronger than we think.