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The Positive Outcomes of Outbreaks Through History

Note: Today’s post is available for you to either watch as a vlog or read as a blog post below.


Interruptions have a way of changing us. We enter our week with a plan, then suddenly, intrusions happen:

  • People walk in with unsolicited problems.
  • Accidents occur, which required time and energy to fix.
  • Outbreaks unexpectedly sweep across the world.

But because these unplanned interruptions force people to be adaptable and resourceful, positive outcomes have often resulted from many of the outbreaks in history.

The Antonine Plague (165-180)

Many historians believe this epidemic was first brought to the Roman Empire by soldiers returning home after a war against Parthia. The epidemic contributed to a major shake-up of the established powers during that period:

  1. It forced the end of the Pax Romana (the Roman peace), a period from 27 B.C. to A.D. 180 when Rome colonized and dominated much of the world.
  2. Afterward, instability grew throughout the Roman Empire, leading to civil wars and invasions by barbarian groups.
  3. People began to reflect and prioritize personal and spiritual matters over materialism. Family and faith became increasingly popular after the plague occurred.

Not bad for an outbreak.

The Black Death (1346-1353)

Mass graves were dug to bury the dead during this horrible plague, which traveled from Asia to Europe. Some historians believe it wiped out half of Europe’s population. The plague changed the course of Europe’s history and brought these benefits:

  • With so many dead, labor became harder to find, bringing about better pay for workers and the end of Europe’s system of serfdom.
  • Studies suggest that surviving workers had better access to meat and higher-quality bread, and afterward lived longer lives.
  • The lack of cheap labor may also have contributed to technological innovation. With fewer workers, people had to get creative to complete the work.

Not bad for an outbreak.

The American Polio Epidemic (1916)

My parents told me about polio, the deadly and disparaging disease that prevailed as they grew up. Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted it at 39 years old. Polio had existed for a long time. But it can often take an outbreak before we get a breakthrough:

  • As Americans watched F.D.R., their president, battle this disease, it became top of mind for millions of citizens.
  • As polio became an epidemic, it drove urgency for the discovery of a vaccine, which was finally created by Jonas Salk in 1954.
  • Worldwide vaccination efforts now take place to reduce and eradicate the disease.

Not bad for an outbreak.

So, with all the negative outcomes we see from today’s coronavirus, what if we looked at it differently. Whenever I see a problem, I tell myself that I can get mad or I can get busy.

These past epidemics may just show us how to get busy.

  • Let the adversity weed out what’s wrong and clarify what’s important.
  • Let the adversity catalyze wise decisions to improve conditions.
  • Let the adversity create an urgency about solving your biggest problems.

There’s almost always some good that can stem from adverse situations. But usually, it requires people to see the big picture, think long term, and take the high road.

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The Positive Outcomes of Outbreaks Through History