Once the dust has settled, what will we have leaned from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Published 2:59 pm Friday, May 8, 2020

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Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and our new “norm” of physical distancing, I have spent much time pondering this question, “What will we have learned once this season has passed?”
I think back to when we realized this virus was becoming a serious threat and that we would need to start closing schools. There were so many questions being asked such as:
• How long will our schools be closed?
• How will students continue to learn?
• What will working parents do about child care?
• What about our graduating seniors?
Then, when we realized that we had to close businesses and shelter at home, a whole new set of questions emerged:
• How long will this last?
• How will I earn an income?
• How will I pay my rent or my mortgage?
Our concerns also shifted to our health care workers, our first responders, and our hospitals. Could these entities handle the predictions about the pandemic based on the incoming data? Would these brave men and women be able to do their jobs safely? What about the segments of our population already in crisis? How can we continue to help those organizations that rely on our support and funding to carry out their missions of helping those for whom this pandemic means, “How will I feed my children?”
So as I’ve tried to ascertain what we will learn from all of this, I’ve discovered that the answers can be found in these questions and the ways we are responding to them. There are things falling into place that, if continued, can make us stronger as a society than ever before.
In my role as Chairman of Education in the Tennessee House of Representatives, I’ve seen how our committee struggles over how to best help our children receive a quality education. What I often hear in these discussions is that if homes were stronger and our children could learn from the parents and adults in their lives prior to starting school, things could be better.
This is the time to put that theory into practice.
Our children are home with us 24/7 and parents are now looking for new ways to educate in addition to what the states and districts are offering. There are discussions around the dinner table that have never happened before. Children are hearing stories about how parents and other family members had to learn when they were young.
We worry that if our schools do not reopen until August, our children will be too far behind to catch up.
However, history shows us that almost every generation has had its struggles and interruptions in day-to-day life. And while they may not be taught in a traditional classroom, there are plenty of lessons that our children are currently learning that I feel certain will be retained as they grow up. They are watching us all work together and cooperate with one another for the greater good.
They are participating in the kind acts that are happening in our world right now, and witnessing the compassion, the care, and the giving that is taking place, often among total strangers.
Don’t be surprised if the next generation floods the healthcare industry with new workers who have amazing knowledge and ideas that will be married to selfless compassion.
Now more than ever, listen to what your children are saying, spend time thinking things through with them, answering questions and addressing concerns. Children understand the sacrifice parents and adults are making right now very well.
Take this opportunity to not only teach and share your own life experiences with your children, but also learn from their innocent wisdom. Try and relax as a parent. Our children will be OK as long as we keep strong parenting in place.
I have found it amazingly refreshing that in times of crisis or need, we all start to think of others more than self. For many of us, this is a command that we are given by our faith, but one that we often forget when our blessings are rich. It was heartening for me to see how we as a society responded when it became clear that our health care workers were in urgent need of personal protective equipment. Almost overnight, people began making these items in their homes or businesses.
We starting finding new ways to celebrate, from drive-by birthday parties, to Zoom meetings and virtual hangouts that allow us eat, socialize, pray, and worship together virtually.
Ironically, we are also finally realizing that social media is not the same as social interaction. We are wired for human contact, and I hope we remember this when we are once again allowed to visit our friends, hug, shake hands and show the love for each other in person that we are demonstrating virtually.
In a time of crisis, we look to our elected and appointed leaders to help us find the answers. We rely on them to make the best decisions they can based on the information they have available to them. As we work our way out of the current situation I believe we have a clearer understanding of the importance of strong leadership and what that looks like.
This pandemic has shown us that we need leaders that are:
Brutally Honest: Our leaders need to tell us all the facts in order for us to support their recommendations and directives.
Humble: No one can know all things. A strong leader listens and learns from those he serves.
Team Players: Good leaders collaborate and bring together the best minds in all areas. They develop best practices by encouraging others to share their knowledge and skills.
Strong Communicators: In the absence of fact is rumor. A leader constantly communicates new information and next steps to avoid speculation.
Decisive: You cannot please everyone. Therefore, a strong leader must have not only the confidence to make a decision, but the courage to stand by it and defend it.
As we go to the voting booths across our state this August and November, I hope we take seriously the responsibility of electing our leaders. This pandemic has shown us the importance of having the right people in these positions. I commend those leaders who have had this responsibility this season, and I encourage us all to remember that there will be a next time, and we will continue to need leaders we can depend on.
What will we have learned once this current season has passed? Will we continue to build strong homes so our children will have a solid foundation and know how to build one for their children? Will we continue to show the same day-to-day compassion, love and sacrifices?
My hope is that the life lessons we are learning from it will continue long after the COVID-19 pandemic is history.
(Mark White is the State Representative of District 83 and the Chair of the House Education Committee. This column was reprinted from the Nashville Tennessean.)

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