Every crisis (from the Greek "to separate, to sift") brings opportunity - a time to appraise and keep only that which is worth keeping. Briefly a window opens through which clarity can shine and then just at swiftly it closes.
Right now, the COVID-19 crisis consumes our attention. We pour over news sites, hit refresh and dig into them again, trying to gather new insights and make sense of the disaster. We’ve watched our lives unravel in real time. In a heartbeat, loved ones have grown ill and then died. Doctors and nurses have become our heroes – grocery clerks and delivery persons as well. In a moment, the usual hum of our lives has fallen silent – the familiar dynamics of work; the bubble of celebrity; all the mini-dramas; the milestones; selfies, branding and self-promotion; going out, travel, entertainment and, the constant buying, buying, buying. Life as we know it has stopped and become quiet.
In the dead air of this crisis certain aspects of the world are laid bare. Unvarnished by commercial enterprise, self-interest and the hurry-hurry-hurry of daily life, the serious truths of our broken world are too conspicuous to ignore: the dearth of preparedness; the dire inequality; the incompetence that would be embarrassing were it not also horrific. Nothing can obscure the complete failure of national leadership or the scope of confusion; the unchecked greed and profit over reason; the stronghold of national and international corporate interests; the disinformation and denial of scientific facts. But, we witness the sweet humanity too – individuals hand-sewing PPE to fill in the shortages; communities coming together with make-shift support networks; and, distributed streamings of symphonies and poetry and lullabies. It is that gross juxtaposition that shakes us. The beauty of human compassion shines a light on all that is villainous and tainted. The virus is a living nightmare but this clarity is a gift; it helps us see the change that is needed.
Right now, each day feels like a week. Right now, we cherish the smallest delights. Collectively we hear nature sigh and know it is a goodness. We believe we will remember it all – the altruism and beauty, the fear of contagion, the solitude, the bodies, the sirens… but these vivid details will not persist. Daily life will resume and memories will fade. We will forget the painful urgency and adapt to a new homeostasis. We either act in this very moment or the opportunity will pass us by.
Pay attention. It is happening already.
We’re finding our rhythm in this pandemic. There are new diversions; we are turning away from the news. We are only human after all. We’ve been through so much already. Our weary minds and spirits need rest. The unrelenting sense of loss beats us down. When reality becomes too much to process, we turn away. As humans, we crave control and order. We want to minimize chaos not draw more attention to it; and so, we’re acclimating.
When a vaccine comes along, and it certainly will, life will push onward. Impatient to return to everydayness we will forget all that we can and bask in the groove of normalcy. We’ll do whatever it takes to soften the edges of these harsh cornered memories. That is survival; this is necessity, but, also it is folly.
Once this crisis abates, the defective system remains. Make no mistake, soon there will be other worldwide disasters. Even if, for a time, we sidestep the emergence of a new pandemic the complex problems that face us are still here as well as the sweeping repercussions they unleash. UN scientists have warned that we have only eleven years to avert climate disaster. Like COVID, global warming is a systemic crisis. It can only be solved by understanding that we are one global community and our problems reflect a singular, interconnected system.
We will not passively adopt a new worldview. This change - this looking at our problems through a systemic lens – requires action.* To design for complexity, we must redesign our world. Changing our individual, national and global fate will require an unprecedented mobilization, guided by global solidarity and built on evidence-based collaborative action. To foster solidarity means understanding that we are all in this together and we must act in concert to change our circumstances.
International solidarity requires transformational change. We must reach across disciplines, sectors, nations and cultures. Transdisciplinarity does not just merge ideas. It creates new perspectives and never before thought of ideas. We must strengthen the connections between us and work across boundaries. We must support new platforms that enable creative and collaborative knowledge creation. We have to help each other recognize that the intractable challenges bearing down on us – poverty, climate change, public health, political and corporate corruption, inequality – are interrelated symptoms of a world that is not taking care of the overall ecosystem.
We inhabit a deeply interconnected and dynamic global environment. As such, we are facing complex challenges that require collective, unified solutions. The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for clarity – to see that partial reforms are only temporary fixes; to reprioritize sustainability over growth and consumerism; to sift through the daily distractions that have suddenly paused and decide what is really worth keeping; to choose to think, act and organize locally, while simultaneously cultivating a singular vision and global solidarity.
* Just a few modest suggestions, as examples, for consideration –
Overall pre-planning for global emergencies (a plan which is triggered for implementation as soon as said emergency reaches a predetermined criteria setpoint. Ideally, the planning would reflect global solidarity, but at the very least, there needs to be the establishment of a national plan.)
Ideas for inclusion:
1) Establish a plan for disruption of food-chain and for the redistribution of food as needed from commercial ventures to needy populations.
2) Planning for the immediate implementation of a National Corps of paid workers to carry out needed national priorities (e.g. in this instance - 1-sewing and distribution of masks for every single American; 2- PPE production to accommodate all hospitals as needed; 3- predefined inventory of workers to coordinate distribution of food, meds and other needed supplies to those who cannot acquire them otherwise).
3) Inventory of scientists, professionals, teachers and others with specific knowledge sets that can be accessed during crisis.
4) Pre-development and implementation of coordinated networks for evaluation of priorities, distribution plans and paid workers to administer, see itme #2 (e.g. tests; ventilators; vaccines).
5) A National/Global Clearinghouse website with up to the minute research findings to provide consistent single-point evidence-based information and reliable best practices with appropriate responses.
6) In the event of public health emergencies, full access to a range of needed medical services or, more competently, national medical coverage for all citizens all the time.
7) A sound plan for addressing rising economic difficulties at all points of SES including, rent, mortgages, retirement plans and other savings etc.
8) Contingencies for interstate commerce disruption.
9) A single, reliable point for local updates to provide information and directs community to needed resources.
10) A plan for homeless populations that recognizes their specific POV and vulnerability.
11) A methodology for systematic collection of salient information related to the emergency from hospitals, schools, and other public sources with plan for paid personnel (see item #2).