May 21, 2020
The transition is underway. In one form or another, we’re beginning the process of defining the new normal, at least until a vaccine is proven to work. COVID-19 seems to be heading in the direction of a disease to be managed, albeit with some extensive and intrusive requirements.
No evidence is more telling than the opening of the Jersey Shore for Memorial Day. The experience is sure to be different. Our habits are hard to break. My personal sampling of mask wearers and Pennsylvania license plates at the shore this past weekend, the so-called trial-run, suggests that we are desperate for a return to the familiar rather than creating new behaviors for the summer.
As a society, we stand at the first of many crossroads in our journey forward. Will we follow the herd and quickly revert to our pre-COVID-19 behaviors, ignoring medical advice to wear masks, socially distance and regularly wash our hands? Or, can we maintain the practices, employed so successfully to earn the right to “re-open” in a limited fashion?
Looking at life through the lens of a 50-plus man, there are particularly significant choices embedded within these larger questions. Choices that can shape a man’s future and the prospects of the people he loves. Admittedly, some of these choices existed before COVID-19, ones that unfortunately have not gone well with respect to men’s health and wellbeing.
However, as with many things we have witnessed in the last couple months, the pandemic has given us reason to re-examine our choices and view them in a new, perhaps more vividly informed context. The central question is: will men see this transition as a trigger and the impetus to embark on healthy lifestyle for themselves and the people they love? Here’s my take.
I’m already on record characterizing the coronavirus as a huge wake up call for men because of the higher COVID-19 death rate among men compared to women. The biological and behavioral differences are well documented. But, beyond the statistics and the clinical distinctions, are the personal experiences that have touched so many.
Does the emotion produced by COVID-19 have the power to motivate men to become leaders in a new state of health consciousness? For me, it only took a couple of encounters to see the emotional force the coronavirus can generate and conclude that men do indeed have a fighting chance to adopt new behaviors and influence others to practice good habits.
Recently, I was waiting for an elevator at the hospital where I work when a nurse pulled me aside. I had just finished speaking to the staff on her floor. On the surface it was a conversation about personal protective equipment, but quickly it became clear that there was more.
Not long into our talk she revealed that her father had died from COVID-19. She was understandably emotional and wanted to share her experience. The look on her face told the story as much as her words. It was moving. I wanted to console her with a hug her but of course, I couldn’t. Instead, I could only offer my condolences and thank her for sharing such a touching story. I felt fortunate that she had approached me.
Another reflective moment started with a phone call from my son, a detective. Through his work, he had been exposed to some unsavory characters and colleagues with similar experiences. He needed to be tested. I steered him to the right people and everything turned out fine. However, no matter what the outcome, like any parent, the thought of my son at added risk, on top of his everyday risk, was unsettling. What if the test was positive? The point hit home.
My stories show the emotionally-charged, game-changing effect of the pandemic. I have previously argued that America’s response to the coronavirus has demonstrated our collective capacity to change behavior. The migration into the transitional phase of COVID-19 represents an opportunity for men to help themselves and others to sustain those changes. They can be leaders of the new norm. Here’s how.
First, men can help themselves by changing the behaviors that have made them more susceptible to the virus. Leading a healthy lifestyle can reduce the potential for diabetes, heart disease and a number of underlying conditions which contribute to COVID-19 mortality.
Second, men can leverage the enhanced relationships and new methodologies for social interaction with family and friends built during their stay-at-home period. When motivated, men are fully capable of building and extending their relationships, and creating a solid platform for health and happiness.
Third, and perhaps most important, men can lead. They can be an example to their children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. A glaring and positive demonstration that an old dog can indeed learn new tricks. By showing concern for their own health and the health of others by wearing a mask and practicing the other best practices, men can lead the new normal and influence the behavior of others. A major reversal from the male caveman mentality of invincibility, even at 50-plus.
Who knows what the future holds? What we do know is that in the past, men were anything but role models of health. Their behaviors resulted in shorter lives than women and more chronic disease. Under the microscope of COVID-19, we have observed how these behaviors contributed to a higher mortality rate than women.
We are now at a crossroads, one that extends beyond 50-plus men and impacts the population as a whole. The choice is clear. As we move into the COVID-19 transition period, men can follow the herd back to their unhealthy ways or they can lead the pack by demonstrating personal responsibility, rejecting the behavior of the past, and offering a new behavioral model for the future.
If nothing else, COVID-19 has given men a newfound source of inspiration to live healthy. Will they make the right choice? It starts with you.