What We Can Learn from the Ongoing Crisis

There used to be a saying that when the United States sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. Increasingly, as the world has gotten much smaller and flatter, our interconnectedness has made us both more durable and more fragile. It no longer matters who sneezes when all of us can catch something far worse than a cold.

A virus that begins in one country can easily hop a ride across the largest of boundaries, the oceans, on the daily international flights that allow us access to the world. Viruses use us as hosts, preying on our need to be close to others of our kind, finding a way to replicate itself by infecting others.

The absence of evidence is no evidence of absence. It is possible for people who carry some illness to exhibit no symptoms, allowing them to infect others without meaning to, and without even knowing they have done so. We can hurt each other without intention. We were unprepared to identify those who might infect others, something we haven’t yet done, and something that is not even being discussed.

We prepare to fight the last war. The previous few wars that looked like this were something less than this one. This war is of a much greater magnitude, with much more significant consequences. We now know we need to prepare for future challenges by imagining what seems impossible.

We tend to believe that things that happen to other people will not—or can not—happen to us. As we watched the crisis rip through Asia before finding its way to Italy and Iran, we did very little to prepare ourselves for the crisis that was sure to find its way to our shores.

Despite our advances in science and medicine, and despite our knowledge that something like this was possible, we did not have a plan for managing an emergency of this magnitude, including a plan for the supply chain necessary to respond to this crisis.

We have allowed ourselves to be split into tribes based on politics, making it more difficult for our government to respond to what is a humanitarian crisis by injecting politics into the response, further reducing the speed and effectiveness of solutions.

It’s challenging to recognize how much of our daily lives we take for granted until we are deprived of our routines. The restaurants that provide meals are closed, as are many of the places we gather with friends, families, and strangers. The grocery store is missing things that we buy because some people panic. Abundant things are perceived as being scarce.

You may not have noticed how quiet it is without airplanes flying overhead all day. You might not have looked up to discover that there are no contrails. If you are still going to work, you will have no doubt noticed how few cars there are on the road.

Our media no longer provides news or information. It has been a very long time since it has done so. If real journalism is dead (and it is), it is because everything reported is filtered through political talking points designed to confirm the bias of a targeted audience. The incentives for reporting the news are based on sensationalizing stories to command attention, clicks, likes, and shares, not creating an informed public.

There are always people who run towards the sound of the guns, putting themselves in harm’s way to protect others. The heroes are our neighbors who show up to the hospital or clinic to help those who are ill, working longer hours, under more significant stress, and lacking the things they need. We often under-appreciate them until there is a crisis.

We lack visionary leaders. We lack people who refuse to accept the status quo and who want to bend reality to their vision instead of allowing fact to limit their imagination. We are too confident that what has never been done cannot ever be done, only to be surprised when someone does it, like selling one million electric cars.

What we may not yet have realized is how deeply connected all of us are, how much we depend on each other for the way of life we enjoy.

We are going to recover from this crisis. It is going to take time, but we are going to rebuild our lives, our communities, our businesses, our economy, and our countries. All of history is the story of building the future on top of the rubble of past crises. We occasionally apply lessons learned to the future and sometimes act in opposition to what we have learned. The speed at which we recover is going to depend on you and me doing our part to make things better where we are, something we can start doing now.

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