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“The Times They Are a-Changin’”

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Shami Dugal
September 12, 2020

The year 2020 has put the world into a warp nine spin that has led it into continued chaos. On a Star Trek episode when the captain tells his officers to go into warp nine, the ship Enterprise shoots from a chaotic outer-sphere into a calm galaxy of beautiful stars. The President has initiated Project Warp 9 but the pandemic continues unabated. Normalcy is quite a ways off.

The pandemic has caused a shutdown of businesses and social interaction to a severe point. The effect this has had on people is devastating. Norms that people have known and depended on may no longer exist or exist in ways they did not before.

The change of a one wage earner in a family to two wage earners occurred over decades and permitted time for gradual acceptance socially. A two-wage family is necessary to satisfy expectations of the current generation. The cost of essentials such as accommodation, transportation, healthcare, food and entertainment have escalated where one wage in a family does not cut it. Holidays include expensive gift giving and a lack of that causes anxiety and despair. When jobs and wages begin to decrease or disappear due to the pandemic, the shock of the change that has occurred in months rather than over time is understandably difficult to comprehend and accept.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a rude shock, like plunging into icy water with no prior notice. There has been no organized worldwide strategy for combatting it other than plans developed by individual countries and regional tactics that are not consistent with each other.

This lack of coordination has placed great stress on families and individuals that need a paycheck. Families can be spread out across states and the globe as corporations balance costs and dividends by using inexpensive labor, and people have to work where the jobs are. Travel restrictions are unclear and change often. The only available method of connecting with family and friends is through online methods and social media. But this is well short of reaching out and really touching someone.

The uncertainties associated with the pandemic have increased fear, despair and anxiety, manyfold greater than what people have known. While it may be true that other calamities take lives, such as heart attacks, diabetes, alcoholism and road accidents, COVID-19 was innocuously described as a “flu” that so far has no antidote. When the result is death and explanations of how it transmits change by the day, all the known rules and norms for dealing with such a malady go out of the window.

The current climate in the USA is fraught with conflicting information and politics that are at severe odds and the result are organized chaos for subduing this virus.

Companies are shrinking or going out of business and jobs are disappearing with little hope of coming back. People just don’t know what to do, for themselves and their families. Their plans, short and long term, have to be constantly re-evaluated depending on changes in politics, economy and media reports.

There is no single formula that can be used to develop a plan. Each individual and family has to develop one that is suitable for them so they can survive through this change.

An optimist would say that when one door closes shut, the reverberation causes many other doors to open. These doors may be unknown to individuals. The question then becomes how to find these doors and determine which ones to pursue.

First, it is important to take stock of personal assets, skills and requirements to subsist. Those that have secure jobs are indeed fortunate. Their decisions are easier but they should consider backup plans and new avenues. No one would have predicted a year ago where we are today.

 Those that have lost jobs have to find those doors that offer hope. They may have to tap friends, connections and past associations for possible opportunities. There has to be a realization that finding the next job or enterprise may easily take time and adjustments will be needed in the meantime. A multi-faceted approach is necessary along with a close watch over trends.

This country was shaped by people that had nothing to return to and so the only option was to move forward. They had hope and the will to survive and craft a better life. We are at that crossroads—the life we know has changed forever and we need to shape a new life for ourselves. It will not necessarily be better or worse, but it will be different; and we have to find happiness in it. Nature has a way of bringing you to heel. It is time to accept it and move forward.

Bob Dylan has expressed the circumstances that are upon us in his song, “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” and it is worth reading the poem… Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, For the times they are a-changin’.


Author: Shami Dugal is a member of ASPA and on the SHHSA Board. He has bachelor’s degree in operations research from University of Waterloo (Canada) and a master of public administration from Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa). He is a consummate program and project manager who has worked in healthcare for over a decade. 

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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