Bob Groeneveld has been sharing his Odd Thoughts with Langley readers for more than four decades.

Odd Thoughts: White matter in a grey area

Young brains appear to have difficulty processing the dangers of COVID-19

By Bob Groeneveld


Apparently, “pretty please” doesn’t cut through white matter and get all the way inside the brain.

That’s why Vancouver beaches and other brain-vacant hot-spots were filled with spring breakers last weekend, while the city and the rest of the Lower Mainland were already racking up the highest COVID-19 numbers – including suspected, confirmed, and fatal cases – in the country.

Through the intertwined quirks of deadlines and infectious diseases (between which, throughout my 40-year career in journalism, I have often noticed similarities) I’m writing this as Vancouver’s mayor and councillors are preparing to add legal force to their earlier pleas of conscience and decency for everyone to stay the heck home.

Interestingly, though you’re reading this days after Vancouver’s said shift from polity to legality, we will not yet have witnessed the disease spike that will result from the inability of decent people to penetrate the wall of white matter that insulates young people’s brains from the consequences of their actions.

That spike will surely occur, as revellers leave the beaches and party palaces, and drag their hungover butts back to their home communities, to the expansive delight of the viruses that they injected into each other with ping pong balls and beer glasses.

When you get home, be sure to set the table for dinner. Your whole family is on the menu.

Got some friends who didn’t make it out to your spring break parties? There’s still time to raise the temperature for them – 38C is the magic number.

Planning to visit grandma this weekend? Bravo! What a wonderful and caring grandchild! Enjoy the visit, youngster. She won’t be around forever… maybe not even for long.

White matter is the stuff that translates information that comes into and goes out of the brain during the early years of a human being’s existence. Thought processing through white matter has been linked with impulsive and risky behaviour, lack of empathy or consideration for others, and beer pong.

Over time, white matter in our brains gets replaced by the more familiar grey matter that guides our thoughts into maturity.

Generally, grey matter is supposed to take over the bulk of our thinking processes by the time we’re 25… a little earlier if you’re female, and somewhat later if you’re a Millennial.

And later still, if you’re on spring break.

Because this is a democracy, people were first asked to help “flatten” the COVID-19 pandemic’s curve through Canada, slowing the rate of transmission so that our healthcare system can manage the inevitable onslaught, so that those who can be treated need not die because we’ve run out of masks and ventilators… and doctors and nurses.

I know that social distancing is an annoying concept (although, as a former newspaper editor, it’s practically in my DNA).

Fortunately for those whose behaviour is predominately controlled by white matter, it’s the people with the most grey matter who will suffer the bulk of the consequences of their fun.

It doesn’t seem fair… but then, most young people asked to do anything for someone else already know that life isn’t fair.


In a past life, Bob Groeneveld was editor of the Langley Advance and the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Times. Now he writes when and what he feels like. He has been sharing his Odd Thoughts with readers for more than 40 years. Visit with him on Facebook.

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