Coronavirus Shows The Need To Take A Systems View Of Self-Care

Can any good come of the coronavirus pandemic? A Tepper School MBA reflects from lockdown.

As the country hunkers down for the foreseeable future, millions of us are becoming fully engrossed in “self-care” — slowing down, taking time away from scrolling and stimuli to protect and improve ourselves both physically and mentally as fear threatens to become the prevailing national mood.

But with a little coordination, and a lot of idealism, we can take this moment of hopelessness and helplessness and turn it into the greatest moment of self-care in American history.

Across the country, millions are putting themselves at risk to keep our hospitals caring for the sick, food flowing to families, and essentials moving through our transit networks. And we owe every one of them a debt of more than gratitude. The vast majority of us, however — to the tune of hundreds of millions — are not healthcare workers, first responders, cooks, delivery people, grocery store workers, or municipal workers. So, here we sit.


Naturally, as social creatures, we’re starting to see the idea of self-care expand into community-care. Villages in Italy are opening their windows and singing together to bring hope to neighbors they can’t hold. In cities across the country, we have a new standing 7 p.m. appointment to step out on balconies or opening windows to applaud healthcare workers as they change shifts.

We’re living in a moment where self-care is beginning to expand beyond the self. As we move deeper into quarantine, we can also move deeper into self- and community-care, to systems level humanity-care.

Working on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and throughout my time as president of the Net Impact chapter at the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, I’ve thought about the social systems we’ve built up around ourselves — the ones we inhabit, almost mindlessly, until something goes wrong. In normal times, businesses focus on small changes to products or services. Governments are able to push the conversation forward with massive influxes of capital, but only after everyone they represent is already on the same page. Only when a crisis hits do we come together to collectively explore the failings of these standard systems.


Today, millions of us are sitting at home taking a microscope to our healthcare system. Thousands of op-eds are being penned about how to prevent similar crises in the future, and how to redesign healthcare for the future.

But millions of the brightest minds and hardest workers in agriculture, criminal justice, circular economies, sustainability, education, and more are stuck at home right now — including the many thousands of students in graduate business education. Rather than cancel all of our conferences, now is the time to call national and global virtual summits and reconsider every major system most of us never think about.

In self-care, we think about changing diets — keto, paleo, Whole30. In humanity-care, we can think about our food systems and how we can redesign them for a climate-challenged future.

In self-care, we remove ourselves from social media for certain hours in the day. Through humanity-care, we should be talking about our relationships with the siloed news systems we’ve built, how we treat one another online, and the threats to privacy that continue to grow online.

While teachers are trying to wrangle third-graders via Zoom — if they even have computer access — now is the time to think about our education systems; how we pay teachers what they’re worth, and how every child, regardless of zip code, can graduate high school with the same opportunities — whether that’s four years or more of college, apprenticeships, or employment.


If there is any good to come out of the coronavirus, it is that now, plainer than ever, we can see how close — how physically close — we all are. Health suppliers in China can airlift supplies to New York. Pollution emitted in Indiana can harm a family in Bangladesh.

We need to eliminate the idea of a tragedy of the commons. Because everything, now, is common. We need to take care of our national infrastructure like we take care of our household plumbing. We need to care for our old-growth forests as we do our flowerbeds. And we need to be as protective of the temperature and air quality outside as we are of our thermostats inside.

Once we understand this, maybe the millions of us sitting at home together can build national and global coalitions, submit our house to Fixer Upper and build the home our family will treasure for generations to come.

So, for everyone sitting at home like me, expand your self-care to include community- and humanity-care. Whether you’re a teacher or lawyer, whether you work at a bank or building an app, now is the time to find that system you care about — whether it’s impact investing, criminal justice, media, or the environment. Don’t just donate. Email your boss’s boss to call for a forum. Contact your alma mater. Plan a virtual panel. Build a website or Instagram as a hub for ideas.

Reimagine and improve that system — now.

Greg Hershman is a now-virtual MBA student in the Class of 2020 at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. He previously worked as a U.S. Senate staffer for Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

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