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The Virus Playbook

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There are two immensely successful viruses ravaging the world today. Both are running the same playbook—it’s the one used by every virus that achieves the rarefied air of becoming a genuine worldwide pandemic.

Imagine you’re a virus with dreams of making the Virus Hall of Fame.1 How would you do it? Simple: find the sweet spot between Destruction and Detection, then Downplay the symptoms.

It starts with Destruction.
Every young upstart virus comes out of the womb thirsting for Destruction. You’re ready for it! But be warned: if destruction is your sole focus, you won’t make it very far. Ebola is the cautionary tale here. It was highly destructive, killing people with world-class ruthless efficiency. But because of the speed of destruction, it was far too easy to detect and hence didn’t make it very far. It’s also—just between you and me—stubborn and refuses to learn. There have been 24 outbreaks of Ebola, but not a single one has achieved true Global Spread. (Loser).

Detection is The Real Key.
This is why you can’t forget about Detection. In order to spread, you must remain undetected for as long as possible. When people don’t know they carry you, they’ll walk around and through the things they say spread you without them even knowing it (!). It’s amazing. The longer they don’t know they are infected, the more they will multiply you—little Johnny Appleseeds blindly planting orchards on your behalf.

Downplay the symptoms
Now, unfortunately, it’s impossible to remain undetected forever, so you need to be prepared to respond when an enemy (an expert like a doctor or nurse) rudely attempts to break up the party and point out your presence. The key to winning this moment is convincing your host to downplay the symptoms. Practice phrases like, “We don’t have all the facts. That sneeze is probably just allergies.” But the most time-tested way to downplay symptoms is to discredit the experts who point them out: “I mean, of course, you’d interpret things that way—you’re a doctor. Everywhere you look, you see sickness.” It’s amazing just how much your infected hosts don’t want to believe they’re sick! Honestly, you barely have to try to convince them.

Coronavirus is doing a lot of damage—but there’s a virus doing more..
The OG virus that’s running that exact playbook like the GOAT right now? Racism. Ahmaud Arbery went for a run in Brunswick, GA, and was shot and killed by two men who say they thought he was a burglar. As it’s being detected and its symptoms are being pointed out, racism has shifted into full-on Downplay mode, saying things like, “We don’t have all the facts. That shooting was probably just a tragic misunderstanding.” And it’s trying to discredit people of color, “Well, of course, you’d interpret things that way—everywhere you look you see racism.”

A few years ago, I also went for a run in Brunswick, GA. It was a 5k across a towering and beautiful suspension bridge that stands like a sentinel guarding the harbor. The view from the top is stunning. Ahmaud Arbery’s neighborhood lies just a short jog from its base. I’d guess he ran across that bridge too. Two men running under vastly different sets of rules.

Racism wants people who look like me to ignore its symptoms so it can remain undetected and continue to spread. Let’s not let it. Let’s wise up to its lies and stop repeating its talk track. Let’s call it out in our spheres of influence. Let’s stop it’s spread right here.

If you are a Person of Color, I know this latest murder in a long string of unjust murders has brought up a pain you are all too used to feeling. As pieces of the world look at you and say, “You’re not worth guarding,” I want you to know that’s not what the Kingdom of God says. You have the same worth and the same value we all do. And we are with you.

How do you defeat a virus?
Like all the COVID-19 commercials say, “Together.”


1Not a good business idea. Probably wouldn’t get a lot of visitors.


Written by

Kyle Ranson

Director of the Experience Team at Crossroads, the group that creates everything from videos to music to articles to apps to weekend services. He joyfully fulfills stereotypes about Millennials with his love of craft beer and woodworking, and is passionate about people finding God.

Published on May 8, 2020
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...
  1. What strikes you most about this article? Why?

  2. How do you see racism show up around you? Try to think of as many examples as possible—no example is too small.

  3. How do you normally respond?

  4. Now that you know the playbook, what if you responded differently? Think of at least one way you can tangibly work with others to defeat it. Forward this article to a friend telling them your plan and asking them to hold you to it.

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