discoveries magazine

Q&A: Reality Check for Pandemic Fears

The COVID-19 pandemic fills life with uncertainties and fears on many fronts. Stuart Finder, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Center for Ethics, suggests stepping back, taking a deep breath and putting things into perspective.

Q. How can we adjust our mindset to better cope with the unknown?

A. We’ve lived through a time when the world was pretty stable, but if you go back in history you find disease, war, famine, the Great Depression. The pandemic has confronted us with the reality that life is tenuous for everybody. We want a magic bullet that will make everything go back to normal. What can help is to adjust to the idea that life has always been tenuous, and we need to embrace what we have when we have it.

Q. Could a COVID-19 vaccine be a magic bullet?

A. Between now and when the world is vaccinated, we’re going to have to be engaged in a lot of physical distancing, handwashing, masking. Things can be more normal-like, but it’s not a magic bullet. Also, viruses don’t know national borders. We have to look around the world and recognize that a lot of people may not have access to vaccine for a long time. We can’t pretend that the virus goes away because there’s a vaccine.

Q. How do you think about the risks of life in a pandemic?

A. In everyday life, so many things we do are based on trust. Take driving, for example. Every time we get in our cars, there are risks we don’t think about. We’re in a system in which we are required to demonstrate that we are trustworthy, so we don’t swerve all over the freeway. We trust others to do the same. Much of what I do is oriented toward having concern for others, and I’m almost completely blind to it because it’s so normal. This is an important thing the pandemic is causing us to recognize. We wear masks to protect others. This can be a time when we develop even greater empathy and connection with others.