Ruben Navarrette: COVID-19 is introducing us to someone we haven't met

Summary: It's the journey of introspection that has helped get me by while being locked up. And, in the process, here are 10 lessons that I've learned about myself, my family, and my country.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
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SAN DIEGO โ€” What effect does a global pandemic, and nearly two months of isolation, have on a person's soul?


The Boss got it right. Bruce Springsteen has talked about his personal battle with depression and how introspection helped him overcome it. Getting to know yourself -- really know yourself -- is powerful. It can also be terrifying.

In his song, "Better Days," Springsteen writes that "it's a sad man, my friend, who's livin' in his own skin and can't stand the company."

These days, millions of Americans are livin' in their own skin. And one can only hope that the process of staying at home -- surrounded by the members of our immediate family and leaving behind many of the distractions that once seemed important enough to fill our days -- has allowed us to get to know ourselves as we never have before.

Be warned though. Spending a lot of quality time with yourself is not for the faint of heart. You may not like what you find.

Just because a quarantine is introducing you to yourself, doesn't mean the two of you are going to hit it off.

I shared this thought with a friend, who agrees that being locked down in the suburban version of solitary confinement has forced him to become intimately acquainted with the man in the mirror. With surprising results.

"I'm tired of myself," he tells me with a chuckle. "I feel like, everything a person is experiencing right now, there is a reason for that. If you're not being invited to a lot of virtual cocktail parties, that should tell you something. Maybe you need to be a better friend, a better person."

Guilty on all counts. I need to be both. But I'd also add to the list: a better son, a better husband and a better father. Basically, I'm due for an upgrade all the way around.


As my friend points out, Americans' constant companion through the coronavirus crisis is fear. We fear being alone, contracting the virus, spreading it to loved ones, losing our jobs, no longer being able to support our families, the collapse of the food supply, and the disintegration of the U.S. economy.

But one thing we can't afford to be afraid of is the process of looking inward and understanding what makes us tick.

It is working for me. So far, so good. Even as an introvert โ€” who had to transition from working at home alone to suddenly being surrounded by his wife and kids 24/7, as they also work and attend online classes from home -- the experience of sheltering in place due to California's stay-at-home order has been lonely and intense.

It's the journey of introspection that has helped get me by while being locked up. And, in the process, here are 10 lessons that I've learned about myself, my family, and my country.

  • My mother really did know best when she told me growing up to wash my hands, don't waste food, share what I had, don't rush through life, and look out for others.
  • Our health is not everything. It's the only thing. And the older we get, the more we come to realize that.
  • Money isn't as important as we make it out to be. There is always more opportunity around the corner. Or you're standing on the wrong corner.
  • It's our choices in life, from saving money to holding down multiple jobs to choosing the right partner, that determine our destiny.
  • A crisis brings out the best in some people, the worst in others. It doesn't change who you are. It highlights who you are.
  • Values, virtues and attributes are not found in human beings in equal measure. Some have many, others have none.
  • Those business owners who are ingenious, innovative and intuitive enough to adapt will survive the shutdown. Those who aren't probably won't.
  • It's a silly waste of time to divide up the human race by color, income, gender, religion, and all the rest. A pandemic is the great equalizer.
  • We're not all in the same boat, no matter what politicians say. We're in the same storm. But we're in different boats.
  • In a crisis, leadership can be as scarce as toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

One day, this crisis will fade. I hope these lessons never do.

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