If the coronavirus crisis has brought home anything, it’s that we — each of us, separately and together — can change the system. Remember how distant that strange virus from Wuhan seemed to many of us when it first hit the headlines in early January? That was just a few weeks ago. It’s a powerful demonstration of our current global condition of interconnectedness. We are many. We are one. Now we need to slow the spread of the virus, to flatten the curve, to avoid the massive, unnecessary suffering of those among us who happen to be the elderly, the uninsured, the working poor who live from paycheck to paycheck, the folks who are alone and without any safety net. Self-isolation and social distancing are not about you; they’re about protecting the people who are especially vulnerable. In short: Your behavior changes the system. Your mindful behavior is needed to avoid a breakdown of the system.
To slow the spread of the virus we need to change our collective behavior. We can accomplish this in two ways: through (a) timely government response and (b) testing-based citizen awareness and action. China, after a slow start, navigated the pandemic by relying mostly on the former (draconian lockdowns, quarantine, and social distancing, including movement surveillance of the entire population), which worked surprisingly well. Italy (and now also Spain) pursued an approach that for an extended period was weak on government action — both in terms of control measures and testing. But if you have no effective regulation and no reliable data when facing a pandemic, it’s like running in the forest while blindfolded. The result is massive suffering and death among vulnerable people, for instance when older people in need of care are turned away from hospitals. That is the very path the US now appears to be on.
The coronavirus situation provides an opportunity for all of us to pause, reset, and step up. COVID-19, like any disruption, essentially confronts each of us with a choice: (1) to freeze, turn away from others, only care for ourselves, or (2) to turn toward others to support and comfort those who need help. That choice between acting from ego or acting from ecosystem awareness is one that we face every day, every hour, every moment. The more the world sinks into chaos, desperation, and confusion, the greater our responsibility to radiate presence, compassion, and grounded action confidence.
How one responds to disruption — by freezing and turning away or by opening and turning toward — is both a personal choice and a collective one. Over the past four years, we all have seen an enormous uptick in the freeze reaction by whole countries, brought on by Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban, Salvini, Modi, Johnson. The list goes on. Although Trump has gotten away with telling more than 16,000 lies since taking office, this time it may be different. In “normal” times, you can get away with a lot of nonsense because for some it’s less consequential and sometimes even a bit entertaining. But in times of disruption, the very same behaviors (denial, desensing, absencing, blaming, destroying) come together as a powerful engine of accelerated self-destruction. When that dynamic becomes apparent, when catastrophic breakdowns will result as a direct consequence, the mood will shift and the Trump presidency may soon be history — if the election takes place on schedule this year.
Even though I will use Trump to illustrate these behaviors below, I do not mean to imply this only goes for America. Boris Johnson and many others embody similar blind spots of their leadership. My general point is about the underlying mindset, which is one of avoiding reality — that is, science and data — rather than embracing it when the going gets tough. Clearly, this mindset is on a collision course with reality as we speak.
According to Andy Slavitt, Medicare and Medicaid administrator in the Obama administration, hospitals in the US could be overrun by coronavirus cases in little more than a week and result in a “tsunami-like” escalation that would leave tens of thousands in need of inpatient medical care, but unlikely to receive it. Some experts even suggest that more than 1 million could die in the US from the coronavirus.
Each disruption has two sides: the things we need to let go of, and the things that are about to emerge. On the letting-go side of things, it’s interesting to see how quickly we can adjust as a global community. Suddenly, we find that more than half the meetings we tended to fill our schedules with, may not be as necessary, as essential as we deemed them, after all. So why do we keep ourselves busy with stuff that is not essential? That’s a great question to ask.
And then, a third question to contemplate might be this: What if we used this disruption as an opportunity to let go of everything that isn’t essential in our life, in our work, and in our institutional routines? How might we reimagine how we live and work together? How might we reimagine the basic structures of our civilization? Which effectively means: how can we reimagine our economic, our democratic, and our learning systems in ways that bridge the ecological, the social, and the spiritual divides of our time?
That’s the conversation we need to have now. With our circles of friends. With our families. With our organizations and communities. If there is anything that I have learned from previous disruptions I’ve witnessed, such as the 2008 financial crisis, it is this: the same disruption tends to have a dramatically different impact on different organizations, depending on how the leadership — and people or change-makers in general — respond to that situation. Whether it’s by turning away and freezing (i.e., operating from the upper half of figure 2) or whether it’s by turning toward and opening (i.e., operating from the lower half of figure 2). I have also found that even within one single organization some leaders might exhibit one of these responses (i.e., hiding from the situation), while others exhibit another (i.e., connecting to people in the moment of vulnerability). The difference in impact is tangible and profound: the first set of teams grow apart, while the others tend to grow together at levels of collective resonance not seen before.
How might we use our present situation to slow down, to pause, and to connect with our deeper sources of stillness? Maybe what’s called for now is a global moment in which everything and everyone stops for a moment of stillness, for a moment of connecting to source.
This is an excerpt. Read the full article at Medium: Eight Emerging Lessons: From Coronavirus to Climate Action