It's been quite a year.
You already knew that, though. You've already been living through the chaos that has been the past seven months, a time that has seen a global pandemic, a recession, millions of people lose their jobs, and thousands of businesses close their doors--many of them permanently.
It's easy, especially in times like this, to fall victim to the idea that you can't control the world around you. As a result, it doesn't take much to feel like you have little influence over your own future.
Except, that's not usually true. The most remarkable thing is that it's often not that difficult to turn things around if you know where to start.
In an interview with Politico's Playbook on October 13, Bill Gates reminds us of that simple fact, and it's just the message we need to hear this year. Gates was talking specifically about the pandemic--which is important--but the point he makes goes far beyond Covid-19.
Gates points out that since a vaccine isn't likely to be widely available until next year, "all we have is our behavior." Specifically, he was referring to behavior that includes social distancing and wearing masks.
"All we have is our behavior."
That's a pretty powerful reminder that goes against our natural tendency to try and fix our circumstances instead of ourselves. It's a lot easier to blame external factors for the situation we're in, especially when those circumstances have seemed almost entirely outside our control for much of the past seven months. However, changing our situation could be as simple as changing the way we interact.
Gates suggests that if we were all willing to change our own behavior, just a little, and hopefully for just a short time, the world around us could get back to "normal" much more quickly. People naturally resist any pressure to change the way they behave, but the problem is that you're never going to not get the same result if your behavior doesn't change.
"Unfortunately, we've got a lot of fatigue and a lot of bad messages about these things," Gates said. As a result, "U.S. mask compliance is actually pretty poor."
The irony is that almost everyone agrees that the best outcome we can look forward to is to have everyone back at work, students back in school, businesses reopened, restaurants and shopping malls full of people, and families having meals together this holiday season. The problem is none of that is going to happen until we're able to really get the pandemic under control.
Gates also highlights that wearing a mask is really quite a small "price," compared especially with the loss in productivity and normalcy that we've all experienced because people simply won't give up the little bit of pride it costs to put on a mask when you go out in public. And so, we continue to get the same outcome we've gotten for far too long.
The message is really quite simple--we need to change how we interact, and how we behave. If we do that, we can change the trajectory of our circumstances. That, ultimately, is where we'd all like to be headed, which is why Gates is exactly right. It's also why right now, his message is exactly what we all need to hear.