Surrender and Notice the Gifts

March 13, 2020

by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler

Just a few miles away from where I sit writing this, the school system of New Rochelle, NY has been closed for the week, and the National Guard is delivering food and care to all who are quarantined. In Europe, the entire population of Italy is barred from travel. In China, over three thousand people have died and the supply chain providing medical equipment, not to mention all types of other goods, is severely impaired.

What if we could allow our panic—leading us to hoard toilet paper and be fearful of touching doorknobs—to subside long enough to hear the other messages this virus might be trying to send us?

A great way to hear those messages is to notice: what is this virus giving us already? What gifts are all around us, if only we would notice them?

Here are a few gifts I’ve noticed so far:

  • The gift of exchanging time I once spent commuting for more quality time with my kids, rest, or exercise
  • The gift of time I would have spent doing errands, enjoying a walk in nature instead
  • Rather than eating out, I have more time and inclination to cook for my family
  • I am giving the earth the gift of a rest from the carbon expenditure of my air and train travel
  • School leaders are experimenting with virtual learning in K-12 settings, which could routinely benefit ill, low income, and rural student globally in the future

I’m sure there are more gifts that will continue to appear if I look for them, but this is a start.

Shift Your Perspective

When we take the time to think about a troubling situation in a new way, suddenly something that has been causing anxiety becomes a situation that may bear gifts. The ability to perceive the gifts requires coming face-to-face with the reality of the situation, even if doing so at first may be uncomfortable or even painful. It requires considering the best you can imagine happening in the situation, while taking into account the reality of what you’re dealing with. As I write in more detail in my new book, this is my definition of an optimal outcome. 

What gifts can you imagine in this global crisis, or in any other tough situation you may be facing?


Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist specializing in conflict freedom; she is author of Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life.