Now what? Pathfinding in a pandemic, part 1

Maggie Chotas

Since the pandemic I’ve been spending a lot of time in the forest outside our neighborhood. Before March 11, I had wandered around on some well-worn paths, but since that day when the COVID-19 was officially proclaimed a pandemic, I hadn’t gotten much off the beaten track. Though I’d lived in the neighborhood 17 years, there were other familiar places I liked to roam – beautiful places that required getting in my car and driving to them.

The first Wednesday of this new chapter – when I first felt the world drop out from under our feet – I was walking along on a familiar road, absentmindedly talking on the phone, when I looked down and saw a path on my left I had never seen. Though I’d passed the spot many, many times before, there had been no trace of this path before. I took it. And such began my pathfinding in the pandemic.

My pathfinding adventures in the last six weeks mirror my experiences with this pandemic generally and what I’ve seen in the organizations I work with. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  1. There are many more paths than I am accustomed to seeing in regular, busy times.
  2. With openness and curiosity, new paths can be explored with a sense of adventure that can bring delight, happiness and even beauty.
  3. Sometimes paths I expect to find cannot be found; either they’re not there or I just cannot see them yet.
  4. I can imagine forging new paths where I think they should be, but that takes a lot of time and repetition. And I can’t do it alone. Paths do not get established by one person going through the woods on her own. It takes communities working together to find new ways.
  5. Sometimes I can get really disoriented and lost. At these times I can experience distress, frustration, sadness and even despair. These are natural emotions. Even if I wish I didn’t feel them, they are part of the pathfinding.
  6. When I find myself lost in a thicket, I know if I keep moving forward steadily and as gently as I can, eventually I will find something familiar.

Maggie Chotas leads the Group Facilitation program at the Dispute Settlement Center in Carrboro, NC where she guides leaders, teams and organizations to collaborate and communicate better. You can reach Maggie at mchotas@nulldisputesettlement.org or 919.929.8800, ext 23.