We’re entering our second pandemic winter, and like many people, I was hoping that pediatric vaccines would bring about a greater sense of normalcy. Spencer and I are boosted, our kids have had both doses, maybe we can start doing some more things — but wait! There’s a new covid variant that may be able to evade vaccines. Maybe you’ve heard?
It seems as if every time we get our hopes up that things are getting back to normal, we have bad news about a new covid wave. Over the summer my office had just a couple of weeks without a mask mandate before the crushing Delta wave caused the mask mandate to return.
I’ve been thinking a bit about optimism bias. Optimism bias is the overestimation of the likelihood of positive events happening to you, and the underestimation of potentially negative events. According to an article I just read from the BBC, about 80 percent of the global population has some degree of optimism bias.
And don’t we all believe that we’re just a bit more special than the average person? And if we have kids, aren’t they a bit smarter and more spectacular than other people’s kids? I remember visiting some friends who had a newborn daughter a few years ago, and the dad was telling us about his plans for her to become a tennis player. But don’t we all do that sort of thing with our kids? I bought Marie a dress up doctor coat when she was in preschool, and a T-shirt that said “Future President.” Last spring I deliberated carefully about where Paul should attend first grade, and we considered both French and Chinese Immersion schools before deciding to keep him at his Waldorf charter (emphasis on the arts, nature, and Spanish).
Optimism bias is one of the reasons why my job as an early childhood special education teacher is challenging. One of my colleagues has said, “No one writes in their baby book that they want their child to be receiving special education services. These families don’t want to need us in their lives.”
Optimism bias is also, I think, one of the reasons why the pandemic has been and continues to be so hard. It’s been so much worse than most of us could imagine. We keep imagining that it must be over, and yet — it is not.
Having an optimism bias makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. We’re hard-wired for hope. We need hope to survive. The payoff at the end has to be greater than the cost of survival.
And yet, optimism bias can be harmful too, if it leads us to take on too much risk. So for myself, I’m trying to be aware of my bias, and check my perceptions. In terms of the pandemic, I’m starting to believe that we might be in this boat a lot longer than we want to be. As I’ve read several times recently in the NY Times, right now is probably as good as it’s gonna get. Yep, I’m not telling my kids, but I think we’ll be dealing with this for several years to come. New variants, booster shots, and KN95 masks. Vaccine mandates and protests about vaccine mandates. Anti-vaxxers will continue getting sick with new variants and clog up our hospital system. Trump will declare himself president for life, which thanks to biomedical engineering, will last several decades until he escapes earth to start a space colony. Mark Zuckerberg will become our global ruler and we will all live in the meta-verse.
By the way, can you separate the fact from opinion in the paragraph above?
For now though, we just need to get through this one pandemic winter. I’m going to look for joy in little things this winter. Lavender steamers from the Hideaway Bakery. Bouldering at the rock climbing gym. Ted Lasso reruns. Brené Brown podcasts. Helping families teach their toddlers to talk. Family popcorn and movie nights. Taking Albus for walks. Curling up with a book and a blanket (Currently: Cloud Cuckoo Land). Trying ice skating with my kids. Connecting with friends in ways that feel safe.
From Ted Lasso:
Keeley: So the product you’d most like to promote is joy?
Dani Rojas: I like to give away joy for free!
How will you find joy this winter?
“It was early, which has always been my hour to begin looking at the world
and of course, even in the darkness, to begin listening into it,
especially under the pines where the owl lives and sometimes calls out
as I walk by, as he did on this morning. So many gifts!
What do they mean? In the marshes where the pink light was just arriving
the mink with his bristle tail was stalking the soft-eared mice,
and in the pines the cones were heavy, each one ordained to open.
Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
– Mary Oliver, from It was Early
P.S. Last year in December I published 11 Songs for an Apocalyptic Year. I’m not going to get around to a post like that this year, but I’d like to offer a few songs here that stood out to me this year for one reason or another.