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Working Together, We Will Get Through This

by on March 17, 2020 12:33 PM

“Whatever comes out of these gates we have a better chance of survival if we work together.” This is my favorite line from Russell Crowe’s character Maximus in the 2000 film Gladiator.

I think it is a great reminder that in these uncertain times, we are all better off working together. So, put aside any petty differences and don’t waste time assigning blame. Our shared purpose is to use our intellect and resources to find solutions and to “do the right thing” for the greater good. For some, it’s as simple as having the self-discipline to avoid the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, and large gatherings, and to listen to the experts so you can do your part.

In fact, I have a challenge for the many of you who will not become ill. Use this time of adversity and seize it as an opportunity to do things you would not have thought to do if your normal schedule were intact. You can choose to waste this found time binge watching something on Netflix, or you can use it productively by educating yourself on a new skill or to tackle a home project you have put off for far too long.

Will you face this challenge with a positive attitude and concentrate on all the good you have in your life? Or will you catastrophize everything and go negative?

Believe me, I can empathize as I am experiencing adversity firsthand. This virus crisis has personally cost me a significant loss of income with 12 speaking and workshop engagements being canceled or postponed in the next two months including big ones in Denver, Seattle, and Philadelphia. But this too shall pass. We all have to play our part in making the sacrifices necessary to avoid a far worse outcome which is losing our health and risking lives.

I want you to stop what you are doing, sit down right now and think of all the good things you have in your life. Don’t take anything for granted. If you do find yourself feeling overwhelmed, reach out for help from family, friends and if necessary, professionals.

Statistically speaking, this will be a temporary inconvenience for most of the population.  Yes, some people will unfortunately contract the virus, some may become very ill, and there will be deaths. I do not in any way mean to trivialize what is happening. If you or your loved ones do indeed contract the virus, then what is needed is the love and support of family and friends more than ever.

This is where the rubber meets the road, folks. This is precisely when we need communities to come together for the greater good. This is when neighbors need to look out for and help other neighbors. This is a time to set aside meaningless disagreements and extend an olive branch to family and friends whom you have avoided or shunned.  In other words, it’s an opportunity to be seized. It just depends on how you choose to deal with it.

In full disclosure, I was initially one of those skeptics who worried we were overreacting to the virus and in a sense creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by reporting widespread hysteria. All I could think about was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Great Depression speech, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

Then I started seeing posts from a long-time friend in Italy who was witnessing the devastating impact of the virus in real time. Here is an excerpt from his post:

“For my American friends you have no idea what it is like not being able to leave your home and if you do, only to go shopping for food or to the pharmacy after which you must go home. You have to fill out a document at home stating where you are going so if the police stop you, it can be verified. To go shopping you must wait outside with a mask and gloves until you can go in the store as they only allow a certain number of people in at a time. It is your freedom that is taken away and I feel sorry for all of the small businesses that are closed and the elderly that are suffering. I feel like they are treating me like I did something wrong, which I didn't do anything. I feel like I am locked up in a dictatorship but for the good of everyone I hope this works. After 15 days we are seeing the numbers of new cases and deaths dropping. Please follow the rules and laws, you may not get sick, but if you give it to your grandmother or an elderly person they could die, so be prudent.“

I also recently saw a post on Facebook that said, “More people will go bankrupt than will die from the coronavirus.”  That may actually be true. But you know what? You can recover from bankruptcy and financial strife. You cannot recover from “dead”.  Sorry to be so morbid, but this is no time for sugarcoating the truth.

This is real, and it’s the first time a lot of the Generation “Z” members of our society have had to face such serious adversity.  Young people born in the late 90’s and early 2000’s didn’t experience the dot-com debacle of the late 1990’s, the effects of the terrorist attacks of  9-11, and really didn’t understand “the Great Recession” of 2008-09. Watching the stock market drop at record levels has been a punch in the gut to the economy. It will mean a tightening of the belts and sacrifices that will need to be made by many.

The market was bound to have a correction at some point. But no one could have predicted the double whammy of the coronavirus and the oil and gas wars with Russia and Saudi Arabia. We baby boomers remember the oil crisis of the late 1970s when you only got to get gas on certain days depending on whether your license plate ended with an even or odd number. For a significant part of our younger populations this is the first real financial crisis where they will personally feel it in their own pocketbooks.

Sacrifices and sound financial decisions will become the new normal. My family was set to travel to Italy with my 82-year old mother this May. It would be the trip of a lifetime. It will simply have to wait.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column on “getting your financial act together.” One of the most important points was to be sure you established an emergency fund. The time-tested adage of “save for a rainy day” rings true once again. For those who followed a reasonable financial plan, they will get through this period a lot better.

The lesson of delayed gratification is now forced upon the country; for many it’s real for the first time. Here’s a suggestion for parents looking for things to do with their age appropriate children. Take a few hours to sit them down and discuss personal finances.  Talk about mortgages, insurances, investments and retirement savings. This is the perfect opportunity to teach them to “live beneath their means” and to “be prepared” by putting aside 3-6 months of living expenses once they get out into the working world. Explain how credit cards work and the long-term impacts of not managing their credit and bank accounts.

Sit down and talk with your family about what really matters. What are your priorities?  How do you choose to spend this time? How about reading a book (including The Power of Pragmatic Passion!), watching webinars and listening to podcasts?

When the time comes, when we get the “all-clear” signal, when you feel comfortable to re-engage, then let’s bring out our best selves. Volunteer your time to serve or help to raise money for those in need. Set aside selfish wants for the greater good.

Here is a list of some considerations for you in the next few weeks:

1. Follow the recommendations of the medical community. 

2. Have a positive attitude and focus on what you can control.

3. Call or write to family and friends in senior citizens facilities (avoid visiting in person). 

4. Write out a list of all the people you have wanted to thank and never seem to have or take   the time to reach out to. Write them a handwritten letter. 

5. Use this time to purge old clothes and old files.

6. Review your personal finances and legal documents (such as your will).

7. Begin or finish that personal project that has been lingering.

8. If you feel comfortable going out, volunteer to help others. 

9. Try to live as healthy as you can to avoid sickness. Eat better, exercise daily, and wash your hands.

10. Meditate, practice mindfulness, and if you pray, pray harder!

To the folks in the media. Do the right thing and resist the temptation to sensationalize the news and instead be “servant leaders” who put the masses first. Tell more stories of neighbor helping neighbor and the sacrifices being made by those researchers and medical professionals who are working long hours for our benefit.

We will get through this. We are a resilient people. If we work together, we will survive.


Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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