march 23, 2020—blessed are the nerds in these hard times

True confession time: I easily fall in love with smart people. Deep thinkers. Wise ones. Some call them “nerds.” Wise ones don’t care. “Stimulating conversation” is more stimulating than “washboard abs” are to me. Wisdom, I’ve discovered over the years, comes in a variety of forms; crude imitations and outright fakes abound. Arrogance, opinion, sometimes even wealth can be mistaken for wisdom, when delivered with force and conviction. Especially on a jumbotron. Intelligence is simply the acquisition of knowledge. Anyone can do that—with a computer and a few clicks of the keyboard, ta-da! Everyone’s a stable genius today.

Wisdom. The alchemy of intelligence colliding with life forces and heart and soul and a bunch of other stuff no one can actually explain, but we know it when we see or hear or feel it. Most of us anyway. Complexly unassuming, easily overlooked for flashier models, a wise person does their thing under the radar, without fanfare or accolades as motivation, for the sole reason to better the world, which is why things get a little muddied when we get distracted by the flash.

Another true confession: I’ve never been in a shitty relationship. Which is not to say I’ve never experienced shitty moments in relationships (many), or have never been a shit in a relationship on occasion (I have), or have never been on a shitty date (Remind me to tell you about the XYZ Airline pilot some day. Intelligent, perhaps, but, whoa—you may never fly that airline again, is all I’m saying). Full disclosure: I also have a long history of despising the unsettling ritual of dating, which likely has had an impact on my low relationship tally, shitty or otherwise.

Not a true confession, just true: I’m a bossy older sister and a forgotten middle child, diametrically opposed familial roles wrapped around one person, which comes with its own host of issues, as you can imagine. All of the aforementioned combined renders me highly qualified, or at least confident, in telling others what to do when it comes to matters of the heart and other life conditions. And I write a lot, because that’s the only way a forgotten middle children can get a word in edgewise.

It’s only been this week that I’ve become aware of how important and necessary this very specific skill set will be, especially when we are released from self-isolation. If we’re ever released from isolation (I’m also realistic). People will be desperate to reconnect with others—hell, after a week, we’re already desperate. I am here to provide counsel and mitigate the shock of re-entry (oh my, the puns…). You are welcome. For the puns and for my service.

A nugget of advice I recently offered to a couple of lonely hearts I know, for example, is “The first question you must ask a potential suitor is: who did they vote for in the 2016 election? That will tell you every important thing you need to know.” It’s literally that simple, but I realize not everyone is a love savant like me, so I thought it would be helpful to offer a specific example of what I’m talking about.

Take Michael Osterholm. I am in love with him, from a distance, of course. Why? Because this interview tells me that he is ostensibly, wise. But what, exactly, does it mean to be wise? Let’s analyze this intervie, to find more evidence. After this exercise, after you are released from solitary confinement, you will have a wealth of tools by which to interview potential dates and epidemiologists. Again, you are welcome.

1. Wise people tell you things that are useful, not self-serving. This entire interview is full of so much useful information, you should print it off and carry it in your pocket. You don’t need any more evidence than that, but if you’re a skeptic, read on.

2. Wise people are not cruel; the are unmistakably direct. When asked why it’s been so hard for us—citizens and government officials—to take this pandemic seriously, Mr. Osterholm could have said, “Because no one ever listens to me and fake media sucks and you’re a terrible reporter!” Instead, he said: “I think two things (another clue! he thinks before he speaks): One is, we had almost this sense of invincibility that we had a border that would not allow such infectious-disease agents to penetrate … We, of course, know that is folly. A microbe anywhere in the world today can be anywhere in the world tomorrow.” Gulp…truth is painful and scary sometimes, but facing fears is where growth happens. Mr. Osterholm knows this, and is telling us (without ridicule or defensiveness) to gather reliable information, sit with the pain and fears that this information unearths, and together, grow as a community. By example, he’s showing us the difference between “direct” and “cruel,” which is a helpful tool to have when you emerge from your bunker.

3. Wise people are unintentionally (?) hilarious and altruistically honest—they have an uncanny knack to make you laugh one second then yank you to a full stop the next: “The second thing is, we tend to lack creative imagination unless it’s something about a video game or a movie.” (ahahaha! wait—ouch! You’re talking about me, Michael! But…I see what you’re getting at…). Someone has to do it, or we’ll never see the obvious or learn from our mistakes. He’s the dear friend who will tell you there’s green stuff in your teeth before you deliver the toast, but discreetly, not bellow it across the dinner table. Brutal honesty makes us feel terrible and want to retreat—that’s its intent. Altruistic honesty is uncomfortable, but enlightening. It encourages us to pick the spinach out of our teeth and rise to the occasion.

4. Wise people are unconcerned with being popular, they don’t care about ratings. They don’t sugar coat or say things they think friends or supporters want to hear. They are prophets and sages for the times: “I have no pretenses about what will ultimately happen. I get asked this all the time. I say straight-faced [that] we will never ever go back to normal. We will have a new normal, just as airplane flights took on a new normal after 9/11. I think that’s where we can thread that rope, to try to get there. At the same time, we also want to do what we can to help people psychologically work through this. This is really tough.” Throughout history, such people have been murdered for their wisdom; their socks probably don’t always match and their lunch might be splattered down the front of their shirt. They don’t give a rat’s ass about making friends because their mission to save humanity from itself is more important than senior class superlatives. The irony of this is, without even trying or bribing or lying or doing anything except being his sweet smart self, Mr. Osterholm probably now has more friends that he’ll ever know what to do with.

He gives us a really big clue here—wise people will foster confidence us by pointing out truths: we have all gone through insanely tough times in our lives, while maybe not a pandemic per se, but we can all agree that our lives changed dramatically, permanently, as a result. That’s gonna happen here, too. We will never, ever, ever be the same again. Scary thing, is, that means something way different than we can begin to conceptualize. But he’s also saying that’s not entirely a bad thing, either. We know this truth—we’ve seen it play out before in our lives—but it’s easy to forget. He’s looping back to #1 and #2—truth is painful but essential to transcend, and the bitch is, the process never ends. Note how chill he is, bestowed with this wisdom like it’s no big deal. He’s calmly telling us to call upon our pasts to help guide us, now, and going forward. I have an overwhelming urge to friend him on Facebook, but my guess is he’s probably not on Facebook. Wise man.

5. Wise people are courageous. They call leaders to task, without name-calling or apology, when such leaders fail in their duties in times of need, for not being the leaders we expect them to be: “I think at the White House — I know this will be taken by a segment of the Minnesota population as I’m being partisan. I’m not. You can’t go from “It’s not a problem” to “It’s war” in two weeks without everyone understanding how you got there and what it means. When [they said this week] that the government can go in and take over these companies and make sure everything you need is going to be produced … that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Couldn’t be farther.”

He kinda makes us feel stupid for playing video games or watching movies or tweeting unintelligible drivel and not paying attention and we wanna argue back, but it would be pointless—like a wise parent, we know he’s right. Dammit.

He doesn’t name call, or blame others, or paint himself hero. Wise ones are humble, sometimes self-deprecating, which is why they escape our attention or we don’t take them seriously. They certainly would never use QT self-tanner, maybe a dab of Brylcreem, though, to control flyaways of that thick silvery mane, because now he’s unwittingly been thrust into the media’s glaring, critical eye.

6. They don’t take credit for things they didn’t do; they defer to and acknowledge other experts and allow them to do their jobs without interfering: “We’ve been dealing a lot with Minnesotans in terms of what’s going on inside their head. But we have not done a good job of dealing with what’s going on inside their hearts. I think that again I can’t imagine a more compassionate and empathetic [health] commissioner than Jan Malcolm. She’s incredible. Nobody is better prepared…You know me well enough to know that I’m not a partisan. I am very impressed with [Minnesota Gov.] Tim Walz and how he was worked with the commissioner and the state Health Department…he’s communicated with both sides of the aisle. He’s been forthright about what they’re trying to do. And that’s what we need. We need the straight-talk express right now (Pay attention to Jan, too. She’s also very Wise. And Gov. Walz. Another Wise Man.)

7. Their message is enhanced with compassion and empathy, hallmarks of wisdom, and they are articulate, because they know that when the rest of us finally do wise up, we’ll need to understand their message loud and clear: “One of the things I’m trying to do is message about the fact that we can’t shelter in place for 18 months. This isn’t going to work. How are we going to start dealing with both the hearts and the heads of the citizens of this country, and for that matter the world? And, we have to understand it’s going to be more than just giving them factual data or information. This is where leadership is really key. It’s important we don’t forget this piece.”

8. They offer real hope and truth in times of uncertainty—the two can definitely coexist, which is kind of confusing when he says things like this: “I am hopeful, but hope is not a strategy.” and “Yesterday, when the secretary of defense and I were on CNN together, the secretary very proudly talked about having donated 2 million N95 [masks] for health care workers. That’s a great thing. But the White House led you to believe that this was a big problem-solver. We’re still about 300 million short of what we need. I welcome every little donation but that’s where I think we just need the honesty.” Holy shitballs. Only wise people talk like that. Thank GOD. We need it.

Still, throughout this interview, you will find endless evidence of hope, entwined with kind of scary facts; they are inextricable: “Have you seen anybody out rioting in the streets or burning cars or hurting people? Have you even seen one fight that occurred in a store over the last roll of toilet paper? I haven’t seen that. People are really concerned. They’re scared … but they’re not panicking. They want straight talk. They just want you to tell it to them, what you know and what you don’t know. We just need to tell the truth. I worry that the truth is being lost in the politics of the moment, and I must say that’s not true in Minnesota.” At no point did I want to throw my laptop across the room or dive out the window when I read this interview.

9. Wise people give us permission to not bearing the burden of hero or expert. To lay low and stay home, is also to be wise. He’s literally giving us permission to take this time to rest and let go of every damn thing that we formerly believed was true, that was not serving us or anyone else for that matter. We finally, have an honest-to-God opportunity at the redo in life that we’ve longed for. Kind fo a bitch that it was forced on us, but hey, that’s life, and we’re human, we’ll survive or we won’t. it’s kind of, really, up to us.

10. Fall in love with wise people. Listen to them closely. The stuff they talk about might be shitty, but your relationship with them will be anything but. You likely won’t find them on dating sites, or in the White House, but they have been and will be right alongside you (at least six feet away, they’ve probably always done that, because they’re wise like that, and I’ll bet $100 most wise people are not huggers or hand-shakers). Not only when the going gets tough, but especially when the going gets tough. xo!

‘I say straight-faced we will never ever go back to normal’

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