Uncertainty. It’s a word, a feeling and, lately, a label describing the current state of the world. As many of us have sought to navigate the turbulence of the past two years, we’ve fallen back on similar words, feelings and labels: unprecedented, ever-changing and worst of all, unknown. These adjectives are not used for their actual, descriptive purpose, but rather, they seem to serve as a justification for the civil unrest we’re all currently experiencing.
With this anxiety in mind, I’ve recently found myself reflecting on the progress we’ve made as a country. When COVID-19 forced a nationwide shutdown in March 2020, the first timeline for administering a potential vaccine was slated to be late-2021. We passed that mark with flying colors. We managed to elect a new leader, too — someone who has not been impeached on multiple counts like his predecessor. Finally, there is optimism for our climate. Renewable energy had a record year; wind and solar power are now financially outperforming fossil fuels, and the U.S. rejoined the Paris Climate Accords, both of which are a win for our climate.
Of course, it seems as if, for every positive, there is also a negative. As of this month, 27% of U.S. adults have yet to be fully vaccinated. President Joe Biden has a 43.1% approval rating and, based on the data trends, is only becoming more unpopular. The climate? Still not great — carbon dioxide levels and global temperature continue to increase as ice sheets continue to melt.
Hence, we as humans are stressed. It’s almost as if a concrete, objective reality doesn’t exist right now. Maybe it’s time to stop pretending one will arrive. Therefore, it is up to us, as a collective, to create a foundational blueprint for future generations, and a successful one at that. But how do we alleviate the daily apprehension felt by many? Perhaps by leaning on the only certainty we can acknowledge: there always is and always will be some semblance of uncertainty in the world. In recognizing this notion, this moment is perhaps our best chance at a grassroots movement, a shift in our thinking and subsequent behavior which should be the easiest: being ourselves.
For example, omicron is raging, but at a certain point, what more can be done? If you are fully vaccinated, practice social distancing and diligently wear a mask — that is to say, you follow every public health measure available — why not try to live your life as “normally” as possible? While this notion might be unsettling for some, it nevertheless is the best sense of assurance we have in an otherwise unsettling environment.
Am I thrilled about returning to campus during a record-breaking COVID-19 outbreak? No, but I owe it to myself. I’ve followed all of the precautions laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the University of Michigan health guidelines and mandates. I’ve been on the other side of a college semester amidst a pandemic, and I refuse to go back. I am committed to diligently continuing to adhere to proper health protocols while living as close to “normal” as permitted.
We’ve long confided in our respective cultures and customs for our personal security. They are, for better or worse, our safety nets. Now, we’ve been forced to abandon them altogether, in the most sudden fashion possible: no warnings, no explanations and zero closure (yet). We accepted the consequences, clear or unclear, without reservation.
Perhaps our pre-pandemic lifestyles have grown too antiquated to be sustainable nowadays. Driving a gas-fueled car from Packard Street to Kerrytown? Probably not the most climate-conscious choice. Yet, with the relatively-new creation of electric vehicles and knowledge of how detrimental carbon emissions can be, we can still transport to Zingerman’s efficiently while being eco-friendly.
In this same sense, we must rely on our prior knowledge and experience, in conjunction with updated learning and innovation, to make careful, intelligent adjustments to our lives. Our livelihoods before 2020 are not obsolete — they just need tweaking. Combined, these truths are what will challenge the current uncertainty and bring us out of this bizarre world we’ve all been living in.
Sam Woiteshek is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.