• Stuart Muszynski

The Tail of Two Viruses

“This is a generational, fundamental change in our society.” – Matthew Dowd, ABC News


No, I do not mean tale. A “tail” in insurance coverage is an extension of the same coverage in a policy even after the policy has expired. It is meant to protect the policyholder, safeguarding against late claims after the original policy has concluded. Applying this concept as a metaphor to the current coronavirus pandemic, what will be the “tail” that extends beyond the crisis and changes society and behavior?

To really understand the broad implications of the tail, I am contending that we have two viruses and two potential tails that can extend beyond the immediate health and economic impacts of the pandemic. On the one hand, we have the actual biological virus – the coronavirus which causes the disease COVID-19. On the other hand, we have a human-led virus called kindness.


We are seeing this latter virus all around us, from the way that neighbors are supporting neighbors, to the way that banks are supporting customers, to the way that athletes and other celebrities are making large donations, to the way that companies are sending positive messages through advertising, to the way that media are reporting positive stories and recognizing local heroes, to the way that Washington is acting in a bipartisan manner to help small business, extend unemployment benefits and blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus. Lots and lots of kindness.


My bank called me the other day to ask if we could use an interest-free 90-day extension on a loan, and bankers have been on the front lines of helping small businesses cushion the stark economic hammer.


Both viruses are contagious. Jenna Bush Hager stated on the Today Show that “Kindness is contagious. Fear is also contagious, but kindness is contagious.” Ellen Degeneres declared on her TV show, broadcast from her home, that “The virus has us all isolated, but the strength of human kindness means that we are not alone.”


Studies at Stanford University estimate that each act of kindness has a viral effect, traveling to and “infecting” at least three other people. Kindness also increases endorphins, decreases cortisol and increases longevity and happiness. These outcomes have been borne out by extensive university-based research. Kindness also increases productivity in the workplace and motivates employees to like and respect their employers.


We continue to see major companies that are stepping up efforts to demonstrate and expand kindness in these times. Mass Mutual, Google, Apple, Facebook, Walmart, Planet Fitness, Cottonelle, Dove Soap, Pepsi, Citibank, American Family Insurance, the Rockefeller Foundation, Nationwide Insurance, State Farm, YouTube, Dunkin’ Donuts, Safe Auto, Big Lots, Domino’s Pizza, Fitbit, Trip Advisor, Go Daddy, Target, Donatos Pizza, Subway, First Energy, Fifth Third Bank and KeyBank have retrofitted their advertising messages to assure, comfort, applaud and support Americans.


Grocery stores and pharmacies have given employees bonuses and increased pay. Americans of all walks of life have expressed appreciation across the board to grocery workers, restaurant workers, delivery drivers, mail carriers, hospital workers, sanitation workers and InstaCart shoppers. Personally, I have rarely expressed appreciation to the crew that cleans my office. I’m ashamed to say that I have taken them for granted. But during the one time that I traveled to my office during the shelter in place order, I went out of my way to tell them, “Thank you for your service, I appreciate you!”


The kindness virus has extended to the internet as well. The current positivity on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is palpable. Stories galore about individual acts of kindness; LinkedIn announcements about companies that are delivering N95 masks, repurposing factories to manufacture hand sanitizer and inventing new face shields for hospital front-liners; friends reaching out to comfort friends.


The coronavirus has been a great equalizer. Rich and poor, black and white, urban and rural, Republicans and Democrats have been affected. Even TV personalities are broadcasting without makeup. Yes, there is the fallout from ingrained economic inequality, with some people quarantined in nice quarters and others quarantined in tight or squalid quarters. There are those with abundant food to eat and others with not enough food or reliant on food banks. There are those who are working and those who are unemployed. This fallout is a tragedy within a tragedy. Nonetheless, everyone is affected in some way. And we all have been in some way on either the receiving or the giving side of one or more acts of kindness. We can clearly claim, as many in the media have said, that we are “all in this together.”


But will this last? Will there be a transformative change in the way we treat each other, in the way we respect each other and in the way we have dialogue in this country? Will the workers’ bonuses hold into the “new normal” of the future? Will the appreciation of workers and professionals on the front lines endure? Will the positivity – and the stories of kindness, compassion, courage and gratitude – continue on social media as well as within traditional broadcast and print media? Will banks and landlords continue to be forgiving of people who are out of work, or will foreclosures and evictions spike to new heights? Will Washington continue to look to the greater good or will partisan political agendas, name-calling and meanness overtake reasoned statesmanship and collaboration?


We already know that the coronavirus will have a tail. Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that it will be with us for a while. It will change how we socially interact, whether we attend religious services, how we conduct meetings, how we eat out and how we connect in person and with friends. There is a risk that America will revert to social isolation and that texting, emailing, FaceTime, Zoom and Skype will become the standard ways to communicate.


Will the residual impact of the coronavirus cause different demographic segments of America and the world to start blaming others? Unfortunately, this has already started with the increased use of anti-Semitic memes on social media. Will racism increase? Will companies open their hearts and start brisk rehiring, creating the uptrend in a “V” shaped downturn and recovery? Or will corporate America dump the concern, comfort and kindness and return to gradual hiring formulas in the interest of robust bottom lines?


Will human goodness remain? Will the kindness virus have a tail? This remains to be seen.


To sustain this message, we at Values-in-Action have initiated our social media #JustBeKind Campaign to welcome, record, catalog and inspire stories about kindness, courage, gratitude and positivity. We are not leaving kindness to chance, and we hope that you participate by spreading the word and by taking the #JustBeKind pledge at www.viafdn.org/pledge-justbekind. If you represent a company that has chosen to be out front with positive messages during this crisis, join us in this campaign.


Together, we can make kindness viral so that goodwill becomes the new normal in the wake of the coronavirus. Let’s ensure that we do not revert to business as usual. Kindness and goodness can overtake meanness and division to create a positive, fundamental, generational change for us and for posterity.


You can reach me at stuartm@viafdn.org.


Stuart Muszynski is President and CEO of Values-in-Action Foundation, a character education and social-emotional learning non-profit organization based in Mayfield Village, Ohio, serving 2,500 K-12 schools in all 50 states.

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