Existential crises are powerful clarifiers. When survival is at stake, we filter out inessentials so we can focus on a single goal: making it through. The SARS-Cov-2 pandemic is such a crisis. The virus — a force of nature — doesn’t care about roadmaps, business models, organizational hierarchies, nationalities, political ideologies, religious beliefs, or any other human cultural constructs. When called to fight such a force, we suspend ordinary concerns and undertake difficult, and often painful, actions.
Over the last few weeks, we have seen many examples of such actions. People around the world have disrupted their routines to self-isolate. Businesses have closed. Major sporting events, including Wimbledon and Summer Olympics, have been postponed. Companies such as Tesla and Apple have started making equipment to aid medical responders. The U.S. Government passed a $2 trillion stimulus package, the largest in history. Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed for the first time in 671 years. None of these actions would’ve been viable under “normal” circumstances.
Such actions come at a high cost. Companies unable to serve customers are shedding employees. Nearly 10 million people filed for unemployment benefits in the U.S. in the last two weeks. The economy is headed for recession. These second-order effects of the epidemic are creating much suffering, but we’ve deemed them preferable to the suffering and loss of life threatened by the virus. Which is to say, the crisis is clarifying our values. We’ve determined health and life matter more than near-term economic concerns. This is as it should be: survival trumps comfort.
The pandemic offers lessons of resilience. This won’t be the last existential crisis we face. Our ability to overcome such crises in the future depends on how clearly we understand the situation and how skillfully we can respond. The former requires that we think holistically about the systems we participate in and create. The latter requires that we develop the wherewithal to respond appropriately and swiftly. In future posts, we will explore both in greater detail. For now, thriving in the long-term requires that we focus on the near-term: on making it through the current crisis with as little suffering as possible.