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The other day, I received a rather scary email.
It addressed me by name and politely informed me that it had successfully hacked one of my accounts and here was my password. In order for my private particulars not to be shared with the wider world, here were the details for a Bitcoin account into which I could deposit $1,500. Thank you, and have a nice day.
The me of 6 months ago would have freaked the f*@! out. Not because the hacked account was of particular importance. Indeed, the email didn’t actually specify which one had been hacked. But it didn’t have to. The exposed password happened to be same for most of my six squillion odd accounts.
Fortunately for me, my security-savvy better half had schooled me on the dangers of duplicate passwords not 6 months prior. And even more fortunately for me, it was one of his lessons I had elected to act upon.
It went something like this:
Hackers are constantly trawling websites, probing for weaknesses. Some sites have pretty good security. Some do not. The ones that fall into the ‘do not’ category will probably get penetrated.
Knowing that most users tend to repeat-use the same password across a whole bunch of their accounts, the information gleaned from this single penetration event can then be plugged into more potentially damaging domains – bank accounts, email accounts, online shopping accounts…
This opens up a much wider drain down which they can and will suck your money, private/personal content and identity.
Your best protection is to make your passwords long and complicated. ‘Password’ is not an acceptable password. And for goodness sake don’t reuse the same one across multiple accounts!
Thus the lesson ended, and we went off to eat cheese and biscuits. But the message hit its mark. The risks were clear, and the ‘don’t re-use the same password’ argument was compelling.
But how on earth could I ever retain tens or even hundreds of different, complex codes, let alone remember which one was for what account? I, like most people, had no confidence that my already over-crowded brain possessed the mental bandwidth to master such a cognitive feat.
Enter the role of the password manager.
Password managers are encrypted, often cloud-based systems whose sole role is to securely store all of our passwords together. When using them, we literally have one job – to remember our single ‘master password’ – which unlocks the gate to all of the other passwords we have recorded.
While this centralised setup may itself seem a little dicey on the risk-front, the likelihood of a password manager being penetrated is pretty minimal. Like us, they also have only one job; to not get hacked. As such they tend to have pretty tight safeguards in place. After all, no one would use them if they didn’t.
At any rate, it seemed safer than what I had been doing up until that point. So I created an account with the free password manager LastPass and set about changing every one of my six squillion identical or semi-identical passwords.
Now, I’m not going to lie; it was a veritable pain in the proverbial to log in to every single account, change every single password to something long, complicated and distinct, and add each one to LastPass.
But within a few days I was done.
My brain felt clear and at peace; relieved of having to remember which of my passwords had exclamation marks at the end, which ones included numbers, and which ones started with capital letters. And I felt smugly secure in the knowledge that my cyber stuff was safe.
So when I received that scary email last week, I didn’t feel scared. And instead of transferring $1,500 into some cheeky hacker’s Bitcoin account, I bought my better half a big block of chocolate instead.
While debate has raged around many aspects of our pandemic, there’s one thing we can pretty much all agree on: the whole situation has been one protracted series of emotional d*ck punches.
About a week ago, a large portion of Australia’s population was downgraded from Stage 3 restrictions (severely limited fun) to Stage 4 restrictions (fun is cancelled).
Thanks to our almost year-long lockdown (with a few short weeks reprieve in the middle as some sort of cruel ‘psych’), we have become – nay, instructed – to become incredibly isolated from one another.
Access to the people we love is forbidden. Recreation is forbidden.
It’s little wonder that many of us are riding minute-to-minute emotional rollercoasters, or simply being sucked progressively into a downwards spiral of mental messed-up-ness.
According to the Black Dog Institute, a whopping 78% of people have reported worsening mental health since pandemic onset. More than half have reported feeling lonely. More than half have reported stress about finances. More than half have reported drinking to excess.
It seems that in our quest to not catch coronavirus, we have created a very unwell world indeed.
But fortunately, this is not (entirely) a doom-and-gloom blog. This is more of a ‘let’s talk about how to fix everything’ blog.
Let’s get into it.
Maintaining incidental connection
Lockdown 2.0 feels rather different to Lockdown 1.0. The first time around, people frequently took to their local streets on foot or bike-back, drawing rainbows on sidewalks and smiling at the people they passed.
Thanks to mandatory masks coupled with our newfound fear of each other, the whole ‘smiling at people on the street’ thing is kind of no longer a thing. And as insignificant as that may seem, the ramifications are potentially pretty big.
When we can’t access our family and friends, incidental encounters with randoms are almost all we have when it comes to connection. And when even those connections are cut off – when we are no longer able to perceive passing smiles in the supermarket aisles – we feel more alone than ever.
So excepting the rare individual who has been blessed with ridiculously smiley eyes, the time has come for all of us to be more overt in how we acknowledge our fellow humans.
It could be a simple ‘good morning’. Perhaps a subtle wave. Maybe even just a wink, or one to two exaggerated eyebrow elevations.
However it happens, we need to let our fellow lockdown-ees know that we see them. We need to let them know they are not alone. And when they give us a wink or a ‘hello’ back, we’ll know it too.
Make yourself feel better
In the western world, the concept of self-care has garnered a ton of traction in recent years, particularly in the context of maintaining a healthy mental state.
The problem is that most self-care exemplars tends to trend towards hedonic pleasures. Massages. Bubble baths. A glass of red (or six) and some raw cookie dough to wash it down.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like cookie dough as much as the next girl. But hedonic highs are unfortunately short-lived. And as soon as the pleasurable stimulus is gone, the feel-good feels fade away again.
Fortunately, there’s a longer lasting way to maintain a happiness high. And shockingly, it doesn’t even involve cookie dough.
What it does involve is doing something nice for someone else.
Oxymoronic as it sounds, selflessness is an amazing way to satisfy our own selfish needs, and can provide a powerful distraction from our own woes. When we go out of our way to make someone else’s day, our serotonin systems fire up, giving our brains a satisfying squirt of happy chemical that lingers like a fart in a poorly-ventilated room.
It doesn’t have to involve anything enormous. It might be as simple as cutting some flowers from your garden to leave on a colleague’s desk or surreptitiously paying for the coffee of the next person in the cafe queue.
Even a small gesture can be enough to brighten a day and pull someone back from an emotional precipice. And unlike curves and quarantines, it’s one thing that is within our control.
So forget ventilators and hand sanni. Connection and kindness are the true keys to weathering this COVID sh*tstorm, and emerging intact on the other side
It’s a mad time right now. Making it through a single conversation without encountering words like ‘unprecedented’ or ‘new normal’ is an almost insurmountable challenge.
In the current cray-cray climate, almost every new day seems to herald a new list of things that we must or must not do in order to be socially responsible citizens.
This week, mandatory masks are the new thing.
For the lucky, corona-infested populace of metropolitan Melbourne (where I live), masks will be compulsory as soon as we step outside our front doors as of midnight tomorrow. And if we fail to fully shield our lower facial orifices, the heavy hand of the law will be poised, ready to slap us (with a fine).
Many people have accepted the impending mandatory masking as an unfortunate necessity born of our far-from-over coronavirus crisis. Others have taken their acceptance a step further and become vocal champions of the mask, decrying anyone selfish enough to dare show their shnoz in public.
But others are less sold on the hiding of our face holes.
I find myself with a foot in each camp. On one hand, I get it. If a disease is both very virulent and crazily contagious, taming transmission is probably a good thing. And adding extra barriers will probably help to prevent us from uncontrollably French kissing and spitting in each other’s faces.
But there’s something that doesn’t quite compute for me.
If it’s so necessary for us to each take a personal hit to protect the health of our fellow humans, shouldn’t we be extending our endorsement of restrictions a lot wider than mass mask-wearing?
By the same principle for example, all alcohol consumption should also be banned from midnight tomorrow. After all, intoxication is one of the most common precursors to violence, road accidents, and a bunch of other antisocial behaviours that harm humans and society at large. Our indulgence places others at risk… just like our indulgence in a bare lower face. Yet we won’t land a fine for ordering a wine.
Smoking anywhere in public should likewise be prohibited. Secondhand smoke has enormous potential to harm the lungs of proximal innocent bystanders in much the same way a bare lower face has now been deemed to pose a secondhand respiratory risk. But we haven’t and probably never will outlaw public smoking.
While these are just two examples, there are a whole host of other possible prohibitions we could declare in the name of protecting each other. Consuming junk food while pregnant. Forcing junior doctors to pull 20 hour shifts. Offering jobs that require a person to sit on their bum staring at a screen for 9 hours every day.
All of these behaviours harm others. But most of them are scarcely frowned upon, let alone illegal.
So if we need to wear masks to protect the people around us, fine. But let’s be consistent with that concern when it comes to other harms too.
So far, 2020 has seemed like some sort of bad joke. The kind that, once cracked, earns you long, withering looks from anyone in earshot.
In Australia, it started with the bushfire season from hell. Our air quality levels plummeted to among the worst in the entire world. Our landscapes were transformed into apocalyptic scenes with smokey, blood red skies. Zombie dingoes prowled through the flames, chewing on babies*.
Then it got worse.
Our already sh*t-stained fan was bombarded by a second fecal load in the form of a coronavirus pandemic. People started dying in droves. The living were locked up, scared and isolated. Toilet paper supplies were rapidly dwindling.
But in among the disintegration of life as we knew it, coronavirus seemed to bestow an interesting perk. And I’m not talking about the extra Netflix binge time.
While the news media religiously delivered ‘breaking news’ every time another person bit the proverbial coronavirus dust, the usual suspects that snuff us out in more typical years seemed uncharacteristically silent.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), influenza-related deaths in the country totalled 3,102 in 2018, ranking the flu as the number 12 most effective killer of Aussies. This was not an unusual flu season, representing only a slight uptick from the 2,497 influenza-related deaths recorded in 2013.
This year however, the flu seems to have suddenly run out of puff. And not just in a small way. So far, there have been just 36 influenza-related deaths in Australia.
Now sure – we’re just over a month into winter. There’s certainly time for the flu to gather a little more mortal momentum. But even if we were to quintuple the current numbers, the total influenza-related deaths would still stand at less than 6% of the numbers experienced in preceding years.
There’s no denying it; coronavirus has cured the flu.
The next question, of course, is why. Why are our influenza death digits so drastically lower than their historical averages?
Iso is why.
Evading our fellow humans eliminates the opportunity for us to pass our pathogens around. Not just SARS-CoV-2 pathogens, but any pathogens. No germ sharing = no germ spreading = less germ-induced dying. It seems to be that simple. The numbers speak for themselves.
It’s clear that being social beings is inherently risky business. Being alive, likewise. As soon as we leave the relative safety of our homes and interact with the outside world, we necessarily put ourselves at an increased risk of death.
But being social beings that interact with the outside world is also precisely what makes us human. It’s what gives us meaning and a reason to get up in the morning. As J.A. Shedd once said; ships in the harbour are safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.
So what does this all mean for our current situation?
All around the world, we are seeing second coronavirus ‘waves’. Infection rates improve, lockdowns lift, infections spike and lockdowns are reinstated to get it all back under control again.
Realistically, this cycle is likely to be a long term thing unless we either change our management approach or get our hands on an effective vaccine. And finding a vaccine that effectively targets respiratory viruses is notoriously challenging… so we probably shouldn’t hold our breath for that to happen anytime soon.
Which leaves us to weigh up the merits of risk vs. reward.
We need to determine how much potential danger we are prepared to weather in the interests of preserving our way of life. We need to work out how long we are prepared to forgo our freedoms in the interest of safety. And we need to know far we will go to protect ourselves before we’ve sacrificed everything that was worthy of protection in the first place.
For everyone, the tipping point will be different. But our pre-COVID world was not a risk-free world either.
At some point, we may simply need to acknowledge that being alive carries an inexorable risk of death.
And shutting ourselves away from an interminable storm, merely to arrive safely at death’s door a little further down the track, doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense.
*This may or may not have actually happened.
Over the course of the past week, Australia has lost its collective mind in a frenzy of corona virus-induced fear.
In stark contrast to our standard ‘She’ll be right’ approach, Aussies have begun genuinely prepping for the apocalypse.
As one might imagine could occur in conjunction with end-of-world arrangements, there’s been a definitive up-tick in the supermarket sales of canned goods, bottled water and long life milk. And fair enough. If you’re buckling down in a bunker to wait out the wiping out of humankind, you’re probably going to need some sustenance to keep you going while you’re down there.
The bizarre bit is that supermarkets across the nation have been completely cleaned out of toilet paper.
It sounds like something out of an Andy Griffith’s book. But I kid you not; I have visited 4 supermarkets in the past 3 days, and there’s not a scrap of loo roll remaining. Entire aisles are eerily bare. Heck, the first store I tried had even been emptied of tissues, paper towel and serviettes.
Given the total dearth of bum-cleansing materials, I felt acutely relieved at discovering I still had nine loo rolls stashed under my laundry sink. But alongside the relief was a whole lot of confusion.
Why toilet paper? Where was it all going? And when would it be back?
It occurred to me that while some people were comprehensively losing their sh!t over the corona situation*, such individuals were likely in the minority. After all, most people I encountered weren’t shirking work to batten down the hatches in anticipation of an impending apocalypse.
Rather, like me, most were simply noticing the lack of toileting supplies and starting to mentally calculate the approximate number of bum-wiping days they had left before their own dwindling supply might start to become problematic.
In response to this increased awareness, such individuals were loading up on loo roll preemptively when they happened upon it. This proactive purchasing further drained the standard supermarket supply, perpetuating the problem which would likely have otherwise resolved itself.
In summary, the toilet paper problem was not being caused by cataclysmic corona concerns. It was simply a secondary symptom driven by herd mentality and FOMO.
This is not the first time FOMO has been to blame for major crises. Poo-paper quandry aside, fear-driven herd behaviour has underpinned a whole heap of other irrational man–made disasters.
Rapid, unforseen stock market crashes, for example, are rarely due to any true change in fundamental stock value. Rather, they typically occur in response to anticipatory anxiety that fellow shareholders will imminently stock-dump.
Bank runs likewise typically take place as a herd-style fear response; ironically often causing the feared disaster (bank insolvency and evaporation of savings) to come to fruition.
Stampedes in which people (or Lion Kings) are devastatingly crushed to death often also start when a crowd senses there is something to be scared about despite not necessarily knowing what that something is, and surge together en masse. It might be a loud noise that frightens a herd of buffalo into a stampede. Or it might simply be fear of missing out on a particularly good department store deal at 8.00am on Black Friday.
In every case, the situation is the same. Fear is more contagious than a cruise ship full of corona virus. And reacting to that fear can actually cause the worst of it to be realised.
So next time you feel the urge to flip out because everyone around you is flipping out, just stop.
Take a breath.
Put your 6 tetra-packs of toilet paper back on the shelf.
And remind yourself that a little bit of calm can go a long way when it comes to preventing true disaster.
* The irony of losing one’s sh*t at a time when there’s nothing to wipe with is not lost on me.
Around 3 years ago, my partner and I figured out what we felt was a pretty great financial strategy. And ever since, I’ve been busy trying to convince everyone else that they should adopt it too.
Before you abandon this article for fear of an incoming 500 word drone about money management – this is not that kind of blog. This is a blog about why I was so hell bent on encouraging others to embrace our scheme.
At first, I didn’t think too much about why I was plugging our approach so hard. Perhaps I subliminally assumed that I just wanted everyone else to be as happy and wealthy as I projected future me to be.
But the more I thought about it, the more apparent it became that this was not an isolated incident of persuasion. I realised that I often encouraged others to adopt my approaches, and not only to money management. I would champion my political views, career choice, diet preferences, hobby selection.
It was not a comfortable realisation.
“How arrogant must I be to believe that I have it all figured out relative to everyone else?” I wondered. “How absurd to assume that others’ lives would be better if they saved the way I save; thought the way I think; placed their new toilet roll on its holder in the same orientation as my toilet roll?”
But as I wallowed in my shameful discovery, it occurred to me that perhaps there was something else going on after all. That maybe my driving desire for everyone to do things ‘my’ way was actually… insecurity.
There’s a soothing sense of validation that’s imparted from knowing we’ve made a good choice. Particularly when we weren’t completely confident with said choice in the first place.
And when someone else adopts our approach, our sense of validation shoots up like an affluent heroin addict.
“They didn’t just say we were right; they believed it with such conviction that they lay down some skin in the game to do the same. We definitely made the right move!”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that every suggestion derives from self-doubt. Some stem from more wholesome origins, like the desire to transmit learnings from past mistakes to help others elude the same blunders.
But when we’re lying in the beds we have made, we almost always want others to hop in under the covers with us to convey the confirmation we crave.
If I were to quit my frenetic corporate job to shift into the less glamorous not-for-profit sector for example, I would feel far more sure of my choice if a corporate colleague sanctioned my actions by following me across.
If I’ve just forked out a fortune for a sparkling new beach house, I probably don’t want to hear that you think the property market is on a downwards death spiral. No – I want you buying up the place next door as affirmation that I did the right thing.
It’s almost as though we feel, when someone deliberately picks a path that’s different to ours, they’re somehow dubbing our way ‘the wrong way’. And that makes us feel sad. And defensive.
So as a sort of preemptive strike, many of us find ourselves attempting to convince our peers that our way is the best way. The right way. The way they should take.
What we don’t consider however, is that no two people are the same. That everyone has unique priorities, circumstances and life trajectories. And as such, a ‘different’ choice might be right for someone else even while being wrong for us. And something that suits us superbly may in turn be inappropriate for another.
His ‘glorious’ new home could be her mortgage nightmare. Her ‘free’ nomadic lifestyle may make him sick with stress. His 16 hour work day might lead him to his dream job. Her 16 hour work day might give her a stomach ulcer.
So perhaps we shouldn’t always try to sway others to our way. Perhaps it’s ok for us to each peel off in our different directions.
Because who knows?
Maybe there’s more than one path leading to a happy ending.
I recently returned from two delightful weeks away in New Zealand with my better half.
Having opted for the ‘campervan’ type of travel, we were very much up in each others’ grills for the full 14 holiday days. We literally had to clamber over each other to vacate the van, access our bits and bobs, or make cups of tea.
Time apart was non-existent. Everything was shared. His experiences were my experiences.
It was very co-dependent.
Remarkably, we made it through the entire experience without killing each other, and somehow even still liked one another at the other end.
However, I noticed that our interactions evolved quite a bit as the holiday progressed.
Having spent every waking (and sleeping) moment together, as time went on we basically had no new news to share. During normal day-to-day life, a hefty proportion of our evening conversations tended to encapsulate updates from the day or sharing of tidbits we’d independently heard or read.
But on holiday we had already shared it all.
We had listened to the same stuff. Met the same people. Done the same things.
As such, barring the odd memory lapse, there was nothing novel the other person didn’t already know about our own recent experience. Neither of us had anything new to teach the other. No unique wisdom to impart.
As a result, the character of our conversations noticeably shifted across the course of our two week adventure.
Discourse tended to be directed at the experiences we were sharing as we were sharing them. We would comment on what we were hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and noticing. On how annoying/lovely/foolish our fellow travellers seemed to be. On the aesthetic majesty of the mountains. On how expensive milk was given the enormous number of cows we had driven past.
On one hand, it was remarkably mindful. We were totally in the moment almost all of the time, and rarely found ourselves ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.
But on the other hand, our conversations were much less meaty than their home-based counterparts had been. Most of our comments were… well, just comments. They didn’t tend to delve too deeply below surface-level.
Back home, I tended to be in an almost constant state of learning as my partner and I exchanged new information in almost every interaction. But on our trip I learned very little from my extremely curious and intelligent companion.
It wasn’t a huge issue. Two weeks was not such an expansive time frame to take a break from absorbing erudition or discussing the ‘big issues’. After all, we were rather preoccupied with exploring and adventuring at the time.
But it did get me thinking.
What happens to couples who are co-dependent all the time? Those who share everything – hobbies, experiences, friends, reading and watching materials – not just when traveling, but always?
If who we are is defined by the sum of our experiences, then someone who experiences everything we experience is essentially a slightly genetically modified version of us. And unless we’re extremely good at role-play (or suffer from dissociative identity disorder), there’s not enormous growth potential from interacting with ourselves.
If a person doesn’t give two tosses about personal growth, then co-dependence might be entirely acceptable. But if we want our life partners to challenge us and make us better versions of ourselves, maybe it’s not the best way to go.
My accidental two week flirtation with co-dependence clarified to me the importance of maintaining my own unique experiences while cohabiting with another human.
So today, while my man completed an online module on data analytics, I churned through a few chapters of Mark Manson’s latest book. While he hit up a cafe for his daily caffeine hit, I popped into the gym. He listened to a podcast about the health impacts of ingesting dairy, and I listened to one about the Australian housing bubble.
In about an hour, we will reconvene over dinner.
I anticipate our conversation will be utterly magnificent.
Many years ago, I used to jog the same running route four times a week. By the end of each 6.2km circuit I was utterly destroyed, gasping for breath like an asthmatic goldfish in the Sahara.
Given my depleted state following each run, I naturally assumed that 6.2km was all that my body could handle. I knew my limit. And so it remained for a number of years.
Until one day, a friend suggested that we run together in a novel area. I agreed, and before I had a chance to entirely realise what was happening, we had 10km under our belts/activewear.
That was the day when I realised the limits of self-imposed limits. And since that time, I’ve been fascinated by how achievable goals often hold me back from achieving.
As I approach each target I set myself, it seems that I start to struggle irrespective of what the target is.
If I aim to climb 75 floors on the stair machine at the gym, I’m struggling at 70 floors. If I aim for 50 floors, I’m nearing breaking point at 45.
If I set out to fast for 24 hours, I’m getting peckish at the 22 hour mark. Scale down to a 16 hour fast, and I’m ready to rip a chocolate bar out of a passing toddler’s hand after 14 hours.
It’s as though, by setting an end point, the message is “This is what I’m capable of. This is all I’m capable of”. And the power of the belief makes it real.
Don’t worry; I’m not going to get all fluffy and assert that we can all achieve anything if only we believe we can. After all, no matter how hard we try, most of us will never be the fastest/richest/smartest human on earth, accidentally discover the cure for cancer, or land a date with Liam Hemsworth.
However, it’s certainly clear that we can quite easily stop ourselves from achieving our potential by prematurely capping our targets.
In a society that advocates short-term goal-setting for success, this realisation gives me pause. Might the setting of attainable end-goals actually be unwittingly shooting us in the foot and holding us back?
It’s not that I believe we should ditch targets altogether. Having something to head towards can certainly provide direction, and imbue us with the will to keep going when the going gets a tad tough.
But perhaps abandoning ‘achievable’ short-termers in favour of more fantastical or long-term goals might allow us to realise a greater degree of what we’re capable of.
Of course, setting ambitious targets necessarily elevates the likelihood of failing to achieve what we’ve set out to achieve. If I aim to climb 100 floors, I may ‘fail’ and only make it to 90. But relative to ‘achieving’ my easier goal of 75 floors, a failure of 90 doesn’t actually look all that shabby.
We’re impressed by Olympic athletes who land in last place. We don’t disparage doctors who are ‘only’ able to cure half of their afflicted patients. We still marvel at that guy who ate 8 hot dogs in a minute, even though really he was aiming for 9.
Falling short of something spectacular is inevitably going to thrust us to greater heights than we might achieve by meeting a more paltry aim.
So what’s your target going to be?