Living in the time of plague: collateral damage

March 16, 2020

public-healthThis is a post about fear, self-interest and collateral damage. It’s also a post about public health. And in the end it’s about compassion, too, and being a work in progress. Because I have to keep it real.

Watching posts about coronavirus scroll past on social media, my blood pressure and temper rose every time someone was outraged by the public health restrictions our county is demanding during this time of plague, calling them “overkill” or “hysteria.”

Their response made no sense. Actions to prevent transmission, especially to vulnerable populations, seem logical, based on public health expert input. Hospitals can not handle a huge influx of people with coronavirus and still take care of those with cancer and other conditions. Or needing surgery.  It’s been heartbreaking to read of Italian doctors having to choose which patients to save because they couldn’t save them all: resources are limited.

public-healthGovernment restrictions on events recognize that community transmission through asymptomatic members of the public could be disastrous to vulnerable populations.

The whole scenario seemed clear to me. Appropriate, prudent actions were being taken. Yet, some on my feed were angry that their lives and business were being restricted in what they saw as a fit of mass hysteria.

As a strong believer in the greater good, I simply couldn’t see their point of view. Surprised and disappointed, I’ve been pretty judge-y about it.

And then, someone I know pointed out that their small business was in such a precarious position that these restrictions might very well do it in.

A light bulb went on in my head. Finally, I got what they couldn’t say out loud. Some outrage was fear of reduced income and for others it really was survival. And as we know from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, survival is the most basic of needs. Of COURSE some people were upset. My view changed.

The loss of a business would be “collateral damage.” Unintended consequences of restrictions. People might not get sick or die, but they COULD lose their livelihood. In this time of plague, small business owners might be sitting between a rock and a hard place.

I felt a surge of compassion for these people, well aware that most small businesses fail because they are under-capitalized. Sometimes, that means their businesses aren’t prepared for emergencies (including their own health emergencies).

And yet, we are faced with a health emergency. Action had to be taken. I see how accepting the situation as critical would be difficult for those whose businesses could suffer. So I thought some more.

Business as usual might mean more people sick or dead. That’s an important connection. While most business owners wouldn’t think of themselves as accepting this outcome, such could be the consequence, one we all wanted to avoid. But why couldn’t they acknowledge this? THIS:

Cognitive dissonance at work

The theory of cognitive dissonance posits that we can not hold two conflicting viewpoints. So if they couldn’t see themselves as not caring that people could die in greater numbers if their shop remained open, the only way to bring their thoughts into balance would be to consider restrictions unnecessary.  THAT is the theory of cognitive dissonance: We can’t hold two conflicting attitudes/beliefs, so one has to change so that we are integrated. 

And that’s what’s happening. I’ve never seen a clearer example. If they accepted that the threat to public health was real they would have to accept restrictions that might do their businesses in. So they had to think that the threat was overblown.

So. Where does that leave me? It doesn’t change how I feel about public health restrictions.

Some businesses will fail. That will happen. Unfortunate, sad and heartbreaking.  I’m deeply sorry anyone’s business fails, but we must take action to potentially reduce deaths and stop the pandemic. That’s got to be what we do as humans with hearts and souls. We simply don’t risk people’s lives to save our businesses.

Maybe this describes your business situation. If it does, my heart goes out to you.


All may not be lost. This would be the time to think about what you can do with down time. Think out of the box about what you offer, how you work, the hours you are open. Toss it all up and see if any new ideas arise— because it’s a new day and new solutions are called for. Get expert help. Check into other resources, creative ways to keep going.

Exhaust all avenues before you throw in the towel.  If that’s still your conclusion, start planning your next step.


3 comments on “Living in the time of plague: collateral damage
  1. Lana says:

    Great post Carol. I have been practicing social distancing, and since I work from home it hasn’t been too difficult. But depending on how long this goes on, we very well may lose our business. A business we built from nothing 17 years ago. We are in the construction industry, so there is literally no way for us to continue our business without going to job sites. And once we can’t do that, we cannot bill customers. We are not under-capitalized and can sustain for a few months with zero income, but cash flow is the key to running a business in our industry, and very quickly we will have no more options. We will continue to pay our employees for now, but at some point that will no longer be possible. Of course lives are more important than our business, and we will comply with all directives. But I have no faith in our government to help us out at all. As owners of our company, neither my husband nor I is eligible for unemployment, so we could potentially lose everything we own.
    At the age of 52, after working our butts off our entire lives. This is such a sad, scary time and my heart is very heavy with worry. I didn’t mean to unload all of that, but apparently I needed to vent!

  2. tonykakkar says:

    Nice post Carol. You are a true gem and after reading this I am really inspired.

  3. Betty Kaufman says:

    Great post, Carol. Like you, I am heartbroken for the people who have devoted so much time, energy, love and brain power to building businesses that may not survive. It is beyond sad. But I’m hopeful that we can help these people get back on their feet. We all need to be very generous.

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