Many professions require the people in that industry to undergo some continued industry education during their life. For instance, lawyers in Texas (with some exceptions) must get 15 hours of continuing legal education (“CLE”) classes to keep their license current. Accountants, medical personnel, airline pilots, teachers, psychologists, engineers, and architects are just a few others I can name off the top of my head. The continuing education classes are normally offered in person or online, and going in person normally means spending two full work days in a hotel ballroom eating lukewarm catering and listening to someone drone on about some esoteric thing that does not and will not ever apply to you. Online courses allow you to watch from your office, home, bed, hotel, etc. without forcing you to pay some minimum amount of attention.
Why am I talking about this? Because I’m a lawyer by trade and 2021 marks the second consecutive year in which I must take my CLE classes online because of Covid. This, of course, means that I’m not taking these classes in person. Why am I bummed out about that? It could be that I’m a very social person, but I bet there’s more to it than that. Let’s take a look, shall we?
When modern humans came into existence about 200,000 years ago, we were a fiercely independent species. It would be 50,000 years before we were capable of complex speech, 150,000 years until we began seeing ritual burials, 185,000 years until all other human and human-hybrid species died out, and 194,000 years until the first civilization came into existence. This means that we as homo sapiens have spend 97% of our existence largely living as individuals and small family units.
But then around 4,000 BC/BCE we learned that we were more likely to survive and advance as a species if we worked together. And it’s a good thing we figured that out. In the 6,000 years or so since civilization emerged in Mesopotamia, we’ve gone from using stone and crude bronze tools to putting people on the moon and taking pictures of black holes. It’s incredible. But it shows that we are much better as humans when we pool our resources and engage in cultural, intellectual, and technological exchange with other humans.
This is one reason the continuing education requirements found in many industries are so important. We long ago figured out that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when it comes to industry. Many of our Founding Fathers were lawyers, but if you put Thomas Jefferson in a courtroom today he would get steamrolled by a second-year law student because of the resources available to that student. Jefferson didn’t have the Internet, Westlaw, CLEs, networking events, local bar associations, and the entire catalog of all jurisprudence in the English-speaking world at his disposal.
Don’t get me wrong. Jefferson was a genius and a brilliant legal mind and once he figured out how to reset his LexisNexis password I’m sure he’d mop the floor with most attorneys, but that would only be because he would be taking advantage of the benefits of collective advancement. And I don’t mean in some communistic/socialistic way. I’m not talking about the government controlling the means of production or eliminating property rights or forced pooled capital or anything like that. I’m just talking about information and skill.
That’s what CLEs do for you. They allow you to be a part of that beautiful evolution that led to indoor plumbing, airplane travel, and the iPhone. Of course, all of that can be acquired through the online continuing education classes. One only gets out of the class what they put into it, but it is still possible, in a vaguely autodidactic way, to virtually reap all of those benefits sowed by Sumerians 6,000 years ago. So why am I still bummed out that my CLEs are mandatorily online this year?
Network Connectivity Error
Human evolution has gone one step further than I mentioned above. Humans have become so dependent on civilization that we voluntarily seek it out and can, in fact, suffer horrific mental trauma if we are left alone for too long. Naturally, there are exceptions, but by and large we crave togetherness. Being in a crowd is a good thing. There is strength in numbers, and in more ways than you might imagine. We’ve already discussed the general advantages like the technological advances earlier, but what about other things?
For one thing, there’s safety. We might drive around in cars and wear clothes purchased at safe shopping malls, but ultimately we’re still somewhat primitive. People just tend to feel safer in public if there are many other people around them. If someone is going to commit an act of atrocity in a crowded area, it is more likely that someone else will notice the shady degenerate and prevent the atrocity from happening. It’s doubtful anything awful would happen at a continuing education class, but still. We like groups. We miss groups. Recent protests around the world prove that. Many people are willing to risk exposure to Covid if it means they can be around others again. I’m not taking a position on that point of view, I’m just restating it.
For another, there’s more practical matters like networking. Continuing education classes are infamously boring. Sure, there are occasionally presentations on subjects that directly affect you or maybe a presenter is exceptionally gifted at grabbing and maintaining people’s attention, but by and large everything is pretty dull. But the dullness can be rewarded with networking opportunities. Finding others who can send you work or help you with an issue or teach you something new or generally serve as a resource is a beautiful part of having a job. Talking to people is fun. You never know when you might need someone, and more importantly, you never know when they might need you. Despite what you might think, everyone has something to offer and everyone is better than someone at something, so being the person to call when someone else needs help is nice.
Another practical concern is economics. The in person continuing education classes create miniature economic booms. There’s the money paid to the hotel or convention center for the meeting space, money paid for catering, money to the people who put together the materials, money spent at shops and restaurant around the event, money paid to hotels for rooms for out-of-town attendees, money paid for parking, and all sorts of other stuff. And that’s in addition to the money generated from referrals and other collaborative efforts that are produced by interactions at the classes themselves.
For that matter, things like Comic Con, trade conventions, professional clubs (bar associations, etc.), civic clubs (chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, etc.), and social/public benefit clubs (masons, elk, etc.) provide a lot of those same things. Maybe not the exact same economic boom in the case of the Moose Lodge, but camaraderie, networking, and other rippling economic benefits. Of course, with all this, we must think about the think that’s on everyone’s mind right now.
So what am I suggesting about Covid and the world right now? Nothing, really, except that it’s very important to do two things:
- We must balance the risks of Covid with the risks of social isolation; and
- We must make a return to normalcy a priority.
Regarding the first one, that’s tough. Covid isn’t particularly fatal for most of the population, but it is dangerous and, as we’re seeing in many states right now, it takes up a lot of hospital beds. That is the biggest issue with Covid, really. It’s not the deaths from Covid exactly, it’s the fact that other maladies can’t be treated because Covid patients are taking up all of the available hospital beds. I don’t know what the balance is, but at some point we’re going to have to figure out at what point we’re willing to risk Covid exposure for our collective mental wellbeing.
Right now about 57% of all Americans have been vaccinated against Covid. I think once that number hits 70–75%, that’s when the public at large will believe it’s time to get back to normal. And sure, high-risk individuals such as the elderly or those with comorbidities might have to wait a little longer, but at some point we need to come to terms with the fact that it’s more important to get the economy back on track and increase the overall mental wellbeing of the public than it is to cater to the more at-risk.
To do this, we need to address concern number two. Right now it does not seem like the priority of the government is returning to normal. The government is focused on getting people vaccinated and freeing up hospital beds, which are necessary and admirable goals. (It’s very rare that I compliment the aims of the government, but then again it’s been a weird couple years.) But the government needs to really hammer normal into the zeitgeist.
We need to focus on how vaccinations means opening the world back up to full capacity. It means more international travel, and new businesses being opened, and drinking at crowded bars, and going to larger concerts and festivals, and larger family holidays, and going back to work in an office, and generally going back to the societal good old days of December 2019.
In sum, virtual continuing education classes are great because they allow people to maintain their professional standing without requiring the inconveniences of travel, hotels, and missing full days of work. But the in-person classes, just like other events that involve gatherings of large numbers of people, have social, professional, and mental benefits. This is relevant both for the people who need to take continuing education classes as well as the public at large. We need to balance our concern for Covid with our desire to get back to normal and the benefits that come with more social gatherings. I sincerely hope that happens this year.
How can we accelerate that? Get vaccinated. Pfizer has full FDA approval, Modern is sure to follow, and I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with no side effects at all. It is my sincerest hope that this time next year we’re looking back at how crazy 2020 and 2021 were, and looking forward to making up for lost time in 2022, 2023, and beyond.
Get vaccinated, keep learning, and let’s get back to normal, safely and without government overreach.