Lessons in judgmental adjustment courtesy of COVID-19

I am learning more about myself in the COVID-19 era. I’d expect you’re doing the same, even if you or I don’t instantly notice.

I am newly aware of how much time I was spending on things I cannot spend time on any longer. Between not playing sports or watching them in stadiums and on television, I likely have 20 freed hours a week.

It’s the psychological, not the physical, that is proving most valuable. The isolated workday is both enervating and energizing. I have more time to reflect on the decisions I need to make, even if I have more decisions to make than ever, and a new and better routine is emerging.

The physical, social things matter, of course. I miss people. I miss banter. I miss elongated discussion. No matter the technology, nothing ever replaces the critical mass in a room to choose to do things. Neither virtual reality nor Zoom will replicate that magical moment in which collective body language decides to proceed or not – far more subtly than technology can summon.

But I suppose what I am most recognizing, and what I am most focusing on fixing, is my oversized sense of judgment. COVID-19 is infecting that indirectly and leading me in a different direction.

The journalist in me has relied upon the energy that arrives with judgment – the evaluative, contemplative, reflective, determinative kind that decides upon which stories to pursue and how. But that energy is at times propelled by critical thinking littered with harsh assessment.

The craft and competitiveness of journalism supersizes certain qualities of judgment that pick winners and losers, heroes and villains, black hats and white hats, people who are better and lesser, and the coronavirus era has been a rife irritant and display of this. Take, for instance, the invidious shaming of people who don’t social-distance. I am, or at least was, guilty of condemning people on the beach in the spring sunshine playing loosely with the medical advice to separate safely. When I started running on the pavement again instead of a treadmill at the gym, I was aghast initially at how many people could not stay two metres apart as they walked, ran, cycled or communed. These weren’t couples or families; these were buddies and co-workers and people catching up on their lives, and I and others were incredulous.

I was also judgmental of politicians at the podium too near to colleagues or their interpreters for those with hearing disabilities. Same goes for lineups at store counters and aisles in the supermarket. I saw them as a clutch of that marvellous new word, covidiots, rather than people who were simply at different stages of development, likely less-informed  and deserving of a little compassion instead of derision. True, they may not understand their susceptibility and may be risking themselves and others. But their lambasting is more about our own egos than about their faults.

Same with the hoarders. The disgracing, invading social media pile-on of people loading their trunks with cleansers or shopping carts with toilet paper, trying to make a quick buck or trying to quell their utter fear of living without, is all about our sense of superiority.

I will risk in disclosing that even, after all these years, I think I need to be slightly less judgmental of Donald Trump. He is lost and struggling and making it up, and it would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, but he is doing so to save his presidency. I don’t agree with his tactics, I could simply heap on the scorn – I mean, for heaven’s sake, Easter to reopen America? – but I’d rather recognize he is adopting the survival mechanism some of us in his shoes would adopt, too. I see him now without particularly judging him, while fundamentally disagreeing with him, because even the struggles of the powerful are like our own in some ways.

Well, OK, maybe I can’t stop judging him. There are limits.

COVID-19 is starting to be a bit of a cleanse on my darker qualities of judgment. I’m settled in for an ordeal, and off-key behaviour could waste the opportunity within the significant time that seclusion has bestowed. I want to use that time more valuably. I can hope to be bigger than I have been, and I have the pandemic to thank.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.