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My Mom's Mantra

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AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

My mom grew up in what she called a middle-class family, with one car, hand-me-downs for the children and an ice cream cake for her 16th birthday. She endured polio as a small child, pulling herself up to watch the other children play outside until she gained enough strength to go outside as well. She didn't complain often and was determined to do her best. Her mantra was "Do the best you can with what you have at the time."

For the next few months, nearly all of us will not only witness but also be part of an ongoing period of wrenching change, one that has no clear ending, a journey without a clear map or destination. We will have little or no control. It's human nature to be anxious, unsure and incredibly uneasy during such times.

What's important is to understand and control what we can, to put our current situation in perspective and to attempt to focus on what we can do, rather than what we can't do. Maybe we should adopt my mom's mantra.

What can we do? We can control our physical actions, our routines and our interactions with others. If we are thoughtful, if we are present, if we are patient, we can make this a time of great personal growth.

What can we control? Our personal behaviors and our attitudes. Daily routines are very important in providing structure and meaning to our lives. Whether it's morning meditation, Bible study or yoga, something that grounds us to the beginning of the day and the end of the day can help us create a supportive framework in which to operate.

While we need to distance ourselves physically from one another, we still need to connect with others, and we can do so safely through technology. Maintaining a six-foot bubble around us does not mean we have to erect emotional or social barriers.

I've reached out to family members and friends this past week to touch base and make sure they are OK. We've had a Zoom book club happy hour and a Zoom breakfast club. Be creative, and try different ways to connect. Not all will work, but some will.

Control your attitude. This one is really hard. When I was a teenager, my mom would often say, "Watch your attitude." She was right, but then I was a teenager, and the best I could do at the time was not all that great.

During times of stress, fear and uncertainty, it's easy to lash out and blame others. It's easy to snap at others in order to release tension. What's hard is to respond thoughtfully, rather than react viscerally.

It's easy to take our frustrations, fears and unease and spread them to others. It's harder to remind ourselves that we get to determine how we respond, even when others lash out at us. Like panic, calm is contagious; it just spreads more slowly.

Let's talk about our current situation. Yes, it's dire, but we have been through other dire circumstances. A tweet I saw today was from a woman who asked her Korean grandmother how she was faring while staying in place. The grandmother responded that, having endured the Korean War, she was just fine staying inside with Wi-Fi. While we are at war with a virus, we are not at war with other humans; our children are not being drafted for war; we are not hiding in our houses while bombs are falling on our roofs.

Finally, we should focus on what we can do. We can learn new routines; we can learn new technology; we can reach out and connect with new people. We can be kind to those who are still working: the store clerks, stock people, police officers, drivers, post office workers, etc.

Through modern technology, many of us have the ability to work remotely while remaining connected with others. We need to take advantage of the technology we have to innovate and create new ways to produce products and services. We have an opportunity to go beyond restarting the old economy and create a new one -- one that takes advantage of technology and incorporates new innovations, new teams and new possibilities.

Let's do the best we can with what we have at the time.

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