Uncertainty as an Agent of Change

Research has shown that when offered three choices—1) Nothing bad will happen to you, 2) Something bad will happen to you, or 3) Something bad might happen to you—people actually find option 3, uncertainty, the most stressful.

I am guessing that the past four months of COVID-19 have brought that fact home to all of us. With so much uncertainty, sometimes it seems like there are far more questions than answers. We’re asking things like:

  • How long can the virus exist and remain viable in the air? On surfaces?
  • Why do people respond differently?
  • Has the virus developed any worrying mutations?
  • How soon will we have a vaccine and how well will it work?
  • When will my life get back to normal?

This uncomfortable uncertainty drives us to find answers. It stimulates our curiosity, our explorations, and our learning. Minnesota is one of the best-managed states in the U.S., and one of the reasons is that its recommendations have been based on sound science. Thanks to University innovations, we have both diagnostic and antibody testing operational at high levels, there are more resources to protect our healthcare workers, physicians know which drugs and treatments work best with COVID-19…and which don’t, and progress toward a vaccine is well underway. 

I had the opportunity this week to present an update on the Medical School to the Board of Regents. I am always proud of the work you do, but recounting the progress we have made in the past six months was amazing.

The British scholar and writer C.S. Lewis said, “War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.” If we replace the word “War” with “COVID-19” or “Pandemic,” the quote applies quite well to what we are experiencing now.

When our normal order was stripped away, we could have fallen into inaction, into looking for someone to blame, into finding excuses why we were not able to function. We didn’t do that. Instead, we are finding new ways to move forward; opening our minds on how we tackle other issues, like racism and health inequities; and transforming challenges into opportunities. I have seen us take this time to re-appraise things we have taken for granted and to identify and focus on what we really value.

So this weekend, if you are feeling the stress of all the uncertainties around COVID-19, remember that you are in a good place, with good people doing the right things. With compassion, time, and science, we will get through this together.

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