If You Hadn’t?
- What if you hadn’t buckled your seat belt?
- What if you hadn’t kept your blood pressure under control?
- What if you hadn’t had kids?
What if you hadn’t stayed home the past few weeks?
We rarely know the answers to these kind of questions. The things we prevent from happening aren’t easily measured. These are upstream things.
It’s easier to measure downstream things . . . fires we put out, addictions we overcame, criminals we arrested.
As states reopen, either in phases or full-out, some are saying our stay-at-home efforts were in vain because the coronavirus didn’t get out of hand in our state.
True? Not true? How can we know?
We often undervalue what DIDN’T happen if we can’t measure it. We never know how many fires didn’t happen because someone practiced fire prevention.
We don’t know how many people didn’t get COVID-19 because of our staying at home.
Work from Upstream
Staying at home has been an upstream activity.
Dan Heath explains upstream activities in his excellent new book, Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen.
“Downstream actions react to problems once they’ve occurred; upstream efforts aim to prevent those problems from happening.”
By staying home, we prevented many health problems from occurring.
But we can’t prove that. Heath explains “the prophet’s dilemma“: it’s a prediction that prevents what it predicts from happening, a self-defeating prediction.
“What if Chicken Little’s warnings actually stopped the sky from falling? The Y2K bug was an example of the prophet’s dilemma. The warnings that the sky would fall triggered the very actions that kept the sky from falling. Maybe what society needs is a new generation of enlightened Chicken Littles.”
We often preach upstream principles to our children. We’d rather them say no to a dangerous behavior from the get-go instead of saying yes and dealing with consequences later.
It’s also what God does with us. He advises upstream behaviors for our benefit, to keep our lives wholesome and healthy and as problem-free as possible.
More Downstream to Come?
So now what will happen? With the silencing of Chicken Little’s voice, more businesses are opening again.
We’ll find out in a few weeks if the gamble was worth it.
And if there are more new cases and spikes in hospitalizations? We’ll have to do more downstream work of throwing life preservers.
“We can pay to fix problems once they happen, or we can pay in advance to prevent them.”
We’ll always need people around to do the downstream work. Things happen and we need rescues. God’s grace is the best downstream gift I know. Doctors and nurses are downstream gifts, too.
“We will always want someone there to rescue us. The point is that our attention is grossly asymmetrical. We spend our lives consumed with problems that we might have avoided altogether.”
If I can avoid a problem or two altogether, I’d prefer that.
I plan on continuing coronavirus upstream actions awhile longer: staying home as much as possible, wearing a mask when I’m out, and practicing social-distancing.
I’ll try to be patient in the process. It can take awhile to see which fruit grows from either staying home or from going out.
“Downstream work is narrow and fast. Upstream is broad and slow(er).”
Taking an upstream approach isn’t always popular. Or easy. But it’s usually worth it.
Thanks to Net Galley
for the review copy of Upstream
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