Staying Awake

Several years ago, a colleague and I agreed that we should just call each other at 3:00 a.m. and talk about a difficult project we were working on because we knew we would both be awake worrying about it anyway.   The project eventually ended in a generally positive way, and I went back to sleeping through the night until the next difficult issue came along.

The world appears to be very bleak at 3:00 a.m., but it miraculously seems to get better after some sleep and the daily sunrise.  Our problems don’t disappear; we just get some fresh perspective when blood flows to different parts of our body and we recognize that dealing with challenges is a necessary part of life.

The advent of social media has probably heightened the drama and fear surrounding new challenges, while occasionally offering some reassuring insight.  A friend of mine posted the following timeline that illustrates my point:

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I don’t think we should ignore concerns like those listed above anymore than I think we should ignore symptoms of illness we might be personally experiencing.  Taking reasonable precautions rather than blaming others or forecasting doom makes more sense to me.

I remember writing a similar column for a newspaper about Y2K (the supposedly fatal flaw in computers that would cause them all to crash at the beginning of the year 2000) and being criticized by some readers for not taking the problem seriously.  We did take it seriously; but we didn’t panic, spend recklessly, or otherwise waste time and energy on a problem that was mostly theoretical by the time the Year 2000 actually arrived.

It’s reassuring to know that at the other end of the timeline, sensible precautions are being taken in Oregon to deal with infectious diseases, including Ebola.  I am grateful for the many people who are risking their lives to care for those who are infected, and I appreciate the good efforts of all those who are working to keep the rest of us safe.  I am sure people involved in this work are worrying about the problem at 3:00 a.m., and I’m hopeful they will awake with wisdom and resolve to keep fighting the problem.  My part at the moment is to be aware of the nature of the threat, keep it in perspective, and act based on the best available information.  The issues that keep me awake at night are much closer to home, and I suspect that’s true for most of us.