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Furniture-building has become a diversion for the two Kennedy teens during the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Mark Kennedy

I've always been fascinated by the so-called law of unintended consequences.

Often applied to economics, it's the principle that when a solution is put in place to solve Circumstance A, it can inadvertently cause Circumstance B.

A good example of this is the current situation involving unemployment benefits in the United States. As part of a federal pandemic relief package, laid-off workers can receive their normal state unemployment benefits plus a $600-a-week bonus.

There's no doubt that this is helping millions of Americans weather the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.

The unintended consequence is that many workers are drawing more in unemployment pay than they made on their jobs, creating a short-term disincentive to return to work.

I'll let others weigh in on the "right and wrong" of this. I offer it only as a good example of an unintended consequence.

Everywhere you look during this time of isolation and social distancing, there are unintended consequences to the measures being taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Even at home, I can see examples.

* Losing weight. I've heard that some people are gaining weight during their time at home. For me, it's been just the opposite.

I'm about 20 pounds under my average adult weight now, and the last 10 pounds have been shed since March. I had to go to Belk the other day to buy new pants that fit. I now have small, medium and large sizes in my closet. I'm currently wearing the "smalls," but I wouldn't bet on that lasting for long. My weight tends to yo-yo.

I attribute this weight loss to two stay-at-home factors. One is fast-food deprivation; the other is getting more exercise.

In normal times, I stop at a convenience store on the way to work most mornings for a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit. Then for lunch I usually grab a deli sandwich. At home, it's coffee for breakfast and a small, loaf-bread sandwich for lunch. I probably save 500-1,000 calories a day in the swap. That adds up.

Also, I'm using part of the hour I've saved by not commuting to the office to lengthen my daily walks to 40 minutes. Before, they were about 30 minutes long, and some days were so busy that I had to skip.

* Loving yard work. A couple of weeks ago, our 13-year-old son and I decided to visit a local nursery to buy hanging flower baskets for the front porch.

The place was so crowded that we never made it inside. The parking lot was full, and people were parking at crazy angles in the grass up to a block away. I thought to myself, "What the heck?"

Then, on my walk yesterday, one of my neighbors marveled that she is spending more time working in her backyard than she has in years.

For my part, I've started looking forward to mowing the lawn. I have begun cutting the grass before it needs it. Even through the roar of the Briggs & Stratton engine, it almost feels like meditation time.

* Learning a craft. One of the most gratifying parts of this stay-at-home period is watching our two sons turn our garage into a furniture-making enterprise.

Our 13-year-old already has three orders for his handmade tables, and our 18-year-old completed a live-edge table for the hall in our house.

They both recently spent a couple of days learning woodworking skills from their maternal grandfather on a farm in upper East Tennessee. They returned home with lengths of maple, walnut, cherry and white pine to create more handmade goods.

Under normal circumstances, the younger son would be peddling his pressure-washing business and our older son would be working at summer camps.

Instead, they have created their own jobs without ever leaving home.

Sometimes, unintended consequences are more like accidental gifts. They are the silver linings in a strange, dark time.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

 

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