Every decision can change, instantly. Covid proved that.

4 min readApr 28, 2020

People think a status quo is like a force of nature. But really everything from humanity is infinitely adaptable.

Photo by Dave Webb on Unsplash

Immovable human rules

Whenever new ideas are met with resistance, frequently the chief argument or motivation for argument is basically the power of tradition, structure, policy, or “culture” being a rigid and impervious force.

“It’s the way it’s always been.”

“That will never change.”

“That is our policy.”

“This is our tradition.”

However when black swans come along, previously unbending rules and behaviors can change and reverse overnight. Sometimes the change is temporary and sometimes it becomes the new structure. It matters not how many times or how strongly the previous structure was professed or enforced.

It can all change in the instant someone makes a decision that others follow.

Enter Covid, the blackest swan

Responses to Covid-19 around the world have shown us more of these decision changes than ever normally happen so widely and so rapidly. For as far back as anyone can remember, things were one way and then all the sudden—in a single day in most cases—they’re all different.

  • Company rules restricting employee presence and paid leave, out the window.
  • Business and government demands for payment, debt, and penalties are waived.
  • Schools just closed, going online only, like flipping a light switch.
  • Evictions are not happening and utilities are not shutting off services to your house.
  • You can take any size of hand sanitizer through the airport.
  • People are not being put in jail for minor offenses.
  • Service charges attached to bills, paused.
  • Restaurants that don’t deliver? They deliver.
  • Internet data caps and throttling, turned off.

It’s certainly a healthy thought to look at these changes and seriously question: “Why have they remained the status quo until now?”

If they’re the first things to get switched, aren’t they probably the least important things to the companies or agencies previously enforcing them? Even if they’re not the least important, they’re clearly seen as something that could be helpful for people. Shouldn’t that be a guiding factor in non-pandemic decision making? It’s critical to examine a lot of these rules and practices that were treated as law.

Why were they there, unbending for anyone, no matter how much suffering they created—if they are now being treated as frivolous?

The chaos argument

The most common backup to support the “because, policy” argument is that without the thing, the only alternative is chaos. The streets will fill with riots, everything will turn upside down, and all will be lost.

Well, look at what’s happening with the Corona Virus so far: Cities look empty because everyone in them is all the sudden, adapting overnight to every change. We’ve been asked to behave like antisocial germaphobes and, well, most of us are doing just that. No chaos, no riots, nothing really very surprising at all. Even as so many of us are facing layoffs and lack of funding, people are mostly behaving admirably.

Two months ago, any of the changes we’re seeing now would be laughed off as unthinkable. Yet here we are.

How quickly we forget

This dissidence with possible reality happens all the time.

  • I remember people saying that cell phones will never get much use beyond wealthy professionals doing business. Then the iPhone and Android turned that impossible future into a global addiction.
  • I remember when people running for election had to keep scandals from the public eye at all costs. Since then we’ve had Schwarzenegger, Bush Jr., and Trump entering office amid scandals crossing all manner of social norms and laws.
  • Years ago I was trying to start an organization for people to rent out their cars, which was mostly met with reactions like, “No one would ever let strangers into their own cars!”. Now we have Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and others becoming common verbs.
  • Company policies and government laws get established at times for years and years to be treated as immutable by everyone — only to be revised and reversed at the convenience of whoever is considered in charge at the moment.

Why don’t we learn?

Why is it that we as groups and individuals cling so passionately and violently to the status quo when it can, does, and frequently should be questioned?

Why are we so quick to dismiss whether specific changes resulted in betterment or detriment to our quality of life?

How can these cognitive biases remain unconscious and unlearn-able to society when they keep repeating?

My suspicion is that we as a whole are just more averse to needing to adapt than we look forward to successfully adapting to changes. To put it another way, we are lazy.

It’s a tragic to consider that such a trivial feeling should end up stifling the livelihoods of millions of people. A paralyzing laziness that leads to self-destructive conservatism.

But now you know

Every decision people have ever made; every structure we’ve set up; every invention we created; everything humans have ever done: All of it can be questioned, assessed, improved, reversed, or removed.

So many things we’ve done have outlived their utility or were bad ideas from the start. Seek out those things of human origin that are unsound or unjust. Mold them into something better. Human laws are not like physical laws. A brick wall will not let you run through it while there’s a pandemic. A company policy can change any time, for any reason. Make it a good reason, right now.