Updated: Apr 4, 2020
a G.Baron original - learn more at https://grbaron.com
Imagine your very first painting. In front of you is a white canvas, and off to the side are tubes of acrylic paint, brushes, and water. You stare at the blank canvas, and with all your might, you imagine a Rembrandt or a G.Baron. Maybe it’s the scene in front of you, or perhaps it’s a picture on the wall, or it’s an image tucked into your imagination. With a canvas and paint, you set out to create something of beauty. You are now an artist.
As an artist, you must now focus on the steps necessary to create your painting. You start with the background. It might be a deep blue sky or a red brick wall or a forest of trees. So important is the background; it might take most of your time. The details, the things closest to you, the thing you most want others to notice, the focal point, will come last. But the background is critical for this one fundamental reason; it gives your painting perspective. It is that perspective that shows the bear in the babbling stream its size compared to the Douglas fir trees directly behind it and that of Mount Rainier behind the forest that crawl up its sides. The mountain, the trees, and the stream all give the bear its place- its context.
And so the value of ‘perspective’ is as important in art as it is in our daily existence. Our background is our history, and we apply that history because it provides invaluable insight into how we solve today’s problems. After all, most problems is history repeating itself. Our background, or our history, forms our perspective, and perspective is critical when making decisions or how we choose to think about something.
The collective response to COVID-19 has provided some interesting illustrations of perspective or the lack thereof. It is fascinating to see our media generally fixate on just two numbers. The number of infected with the number who have died. With breathless excitement, the radio announcer delivers the devastating death toll. The only thing missing is the sound of a church bell. These numbers are told as if this is the first time a virus has been deadly. Without the historical perspective of prior viral pandemics, one might think this might be the end of civilization. It’s as if we only see the bear.
Growing up, I remember a few folks who appeared to enjoy being the bearer of bad tidings. In my neighborhood, it was Mrs. Horn, who’d always be the first on the phone with the latest calamity. For some inexplicable reason, these folks thought some benefit in being the first with the worse. Naturally, Mrs. Horn was asked for details which she didn’t know. It didn’t stop her from speculating. “Yes, he was bleeding when they put him in the ambulance, I think.”
Today, we have entire news channels dedicated to being the bearer of bad tidings. Millions of eyeballs are glued to Ms. Horn. The death bells are only interrupted by advertisements for gold bullion. “Remember folks; gold has never been worth nothing.”
Without proper context or perspective, it becomes easy to cause fear and panic. And that is what appears to be happening today. To focus only on those who are sick and dying without placing that into a context of prior virus outbreaks is painting a distorted picture (below is a graph of the estimated deaths of prior ‘flu’ seasons compared to COVID-19).
The above is a simple illustration of one flu season compared to COVID-19. To add some depth to these numbers, it is instructive to know that in 2015, a relatively typical year, 57 million people died of all causes worldwide. Roughly 4.75 million people pass on every month. During the first three months and three days of 2020, approximately 59,000 people have died either from or with COVID-19. Deaths from or with COVID-19 equals just 0.001035 percent of all deaths to date. Clearly, the number is expected to rise.
Most past flu outbreaks have been the hardest on our older population- particularly those with other underlining health issues. The Israeli’s have been keeping careful tabs on those who have died, and as of this week, the average age is 79.8 years old. Same in Europe. Over half of the deaths are people over the age of 80. For perspective, it is also important to know that many of these individuals had multiple health issues. COVID-19 added to their problems. As with prior viruses, these people died with the virus, not from the virus.
Most past flu outbreaks have been the hardest on our older population- particularly those with other underlining health issues. The Israeli’s have been keeping careful tabs on those who have died, and as of this week, the average age is 79.8 years old. Same in Europe. Over half of the deaths are people over the age of 80.
There’s a good chance we both know people in that age group. We don’t want to see them suffer and die. They are like fine paintings with history and perspective. A national treasure making it truly a tragedy that the virus is claiming so many of the ‘Silent’ generation. The last of the ‘Greatest’ generation, who gave so much for the freedoms we spent a lifetime enjoying, are now being laid to rest without a gathering of the grateful. We mourn alone. Perhaps, that is the greater tragedy.
Is there a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic? Yes. You have time to paint that picture.