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How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
How do we navigate
the changes ahead?
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Eric Kennedy, Disaster & Emergency Management


Disaster & Emergency Management

Eric Kennedy


Eric Kennedy is an Assistant Professor of Disaster and Emergency Management at York University. His expertise is in the human, social, and policy dimensions of emergency management with focus on wildfire management and preparedness. He directs the Forum on Science, Policy, and Society, and leads a national project monitoring the social dimensions of COVID-19 in Canada.

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Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant positive societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

I think there’s the potential for renewed enthusiasm about the importance of face-to-face meetings. When I’m talking with colleagues and students, I get a sense that they really miss in person trust building and relationships and interactions. And so, I think there’s the chance for renewed vigor with those.

What kind of wisdom will people need to capitalize on the positive societal and/or psychological change after the pandemic?

Now, the wisdom that we need, I think, is discernment. It’s really easy to tell narratives of all travel is bad, or all travel is good for that matter. And so, I think, we really need start having more complex conversations that say: yeah, you probably don’t need to jet across the ocean to deliver a document. But it’s actually really valuable to travel to experience new cultures or meet family or build trusted research collaborations.

Which domain or aspect of social life will show the most significant negative societal and/or psychological change in response to the pandemic?

Negative outcome I worry a lot about is the divergence between different groups in society. I worry a lot about the way that this pandemic has created worlds in which there are those of us who are privileged who can work from home, who can control our risk, who have lots of medical support, versus those who are more exposed to work in central roles in the front lines, and who don’t have that ability to work from home, who sometimes are in much more financially precarious positions, and historically have often not been granted the same kinds of powers in society. And so I’m really worried about what economists have talked about as the case-shaped recovery, right, the splitting between the rich and the poor. But not just in economics, in every facet of our lives, in terms of who has power, who has voice, who has a risk exposure, all of those elements.

What kind of wisdom will people need to master to overcome major negative societal and/or psychological changes after the pandemic?

The wisdom there is all about empathy, and compassion, it’s about realizing that my lived experience is not the same as yours, and that there are systematic contributors to the differential ways that we experience life. And so we need empathy and compassion, to help build social systems that are more accessible and equitable and inclusive.

What piece of wisdom do people need to make it through the pandemic?

It’s hard not to point to compassion, again, the importance of being good to yourself and those around you during these really remarkable times and remembering that the world that we’ve built, the kinds of technical infrastructures that make it so that we have to keep working during these abnormal times and try to push the same level of productivity. These are technical infrastructures that are exerting a lot of control over our lives. And so I think being compassionate with ourselves, with each other, is so critically important. I’m reminded of something that was told recently about how the pandemic has really brought out the fact that this is a time when all of us need some slack and no one has slack to give. And so, I think, if we can find that kind of compassion and those ways of giving other people slack when we all desperately need it, that will be helpful.
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