Reflections in a Time of Crisis
To say that Covid-19 was a disruption is an understatement. I won't go into detail about how my own life was affected because there's nothing special about that. Everyone I know was affected. While some are coming into this crisis with more safety nets and even advantages, I can't think of one person whose life isn't changed, and changed forever, by the events of the last few months.
While I don't want to be insensitive to the varied situations of different people, I do want to organize my reflections into a format that forces me to clarify my own views on what's happening. As I wrote them, I realized a singular theme cutting through all my thoughts: The End of Pretend.
While we argue about civil liberties, a virus forces us to stay caged at home. While we argue about body shaming, a virus is discriminating against those whose health is compromised. While we argue about capitalism versus socialism, a virus shows us that so-called capitalist countries are quite socialist after all in their safety nets and so-called socialist people are selective socialists. They are socialist for things they don't own but capitalistic with their own things. They are socialist with causes they care about ("Government should tax the rich and use the money to help those of us who have less!") but libertarian for parts of their life they want to control ("Government should stay away from my choices! My life. My choice!") The virus, this virus, has revealed us not for what we claim but for who we really are when life and death hang in the balance. A lot of artificial lines we draw, the beliefs, practices, and institutions we claim to have, that we put our faith in have been shown to be powerless against nature, both arational Mother Nature and irrational human nature.
Covid-19 has made it impossible for us to continue to hide behind good intentions without right practice, intellectual high-mindedness without real-world application, and personal virtue signaling without community accountability. It's easy to claim good intentions to ourselves, intellectualize what must be done among friends, and project righteousness when it is on social media. These are all much more difficult when the character of our lives is tested against a full blown crisis.
For me, this crisis is holding me *accountable* in a very real and encompassing way. And I have to address my issues myself, not the national government, not the local government, not my companies, not my community, not my church, not my friends, not my family, but me. As much as I'd like the luxury of being able to blame others for my situation, I realized I'm ultimately the one who will suffer for what the conditions I allow in my life. I can't point to a virus and say, "Don't infect me please. It's not fair that my government doesn't have better health infrastructure."Neither can I point to an economic crisis and say, "Please avoid me. My investors aren't ready." And neither can I say, "Please don't trouble my heart, Mr. Fear. I'm not supposed to be afraid because losing peace can lead to health problems." If I don't deal with the real conditions of my body, soul, and spirit, of my relationships, of my work, and of the greater community, even if I can argue that none of this is my fault nor my responsibility, I still suffer the consequences.
It made me think of questions like, "Am I really healthy?" (I guess we'll see if it is healthy enough to withstand a virus.) "Am I really a good business leader?" (I guess we'll see in how we navigate this crisis.) "Do I really love my neighbor effectively?" (I guess we'll see in how I serve amidst challenging times.) "Am I really leading my family well? (I guess we'll see in how we handle the added pressures.) "Am I really a *good* person, meaning someone of personal virtue and great value to others?" (I guess we'll see what this crisis reveals.) While I would like to think I'm ok, even good, in all these areas, this crisis, as all crisis do, has revealed many cracks to deal with. Most, if not all those cracks were already there. But these bad times have forced me to deal with them because I won't succeed if I don't. In some areas, like the health aspect, I won't survive if I don't take it seriously! This is why my theme is **The End of Pretend**. I can't fake my way through a global pandemic, massive economic slowdown, and rising social unrest. I have to truly strengthen my mind and spirit, truly maintain a healthy body, truly produce results at work, truly love my neighbor, and truly live-out beneficial routines that lead to a better self, better work, and better relationships.
One of the things that has made this current crisis particularly interesting (as well as more difficult) is how many traditional authorities in my life have struggled to make sense and respond to the events of the crisis. Part of accepting an authority is surrendering to the greater power of that authority because it has superior powers to mine and benefits me if I do. For example, when I accept civil authority, I submit to the superior powers of the state because (1) I am a part of that state and believe (ideally) that this state has superior powers and is in a better position than I am to lead our community and care for our shared national goals, and (2), the state has the ability and powers, such as the courts, the agencies, and the police, to justly hold members of our community accountable if any of us violates established laws that were set for our own good. But what happens when the authorities are revealed to lack the character and capabilities needed to lead us towards a better future? And what happens when the authorities are revealed to care more for their personal interests than the shared interests? Why is someone who has neither superior capability, superior character, nor superior compassion given superior powers (authority) over me? This crisis is revealing very different levels of character, capability, and compassion among civil leaders, even if they're all authorities.
This is the same for other institutions such as a religious group. I follow the teachings of a religious group, such as a church, because I defer to the authority of that group on spiritual matters. The leaders of the group speak for "God" after all. But what happens when the spiritual authorities are revealed to have very little understanding? And what happens when spiritual authorities can only provide little guidance? What happens when spiritual authorities are revealed to have neither superior spiritual understanding nor superior spiritual contribution? What makes them a spiritual authority over me? Again, this crisis is revealing very different levels of understanding and contribution among spiritual leaders, even if they're all authorities.
Before we think that only traditional authorities are like this, let's look at today's authorities, the people and institutions who influence our understanding, how we live, where we place our attention, how we spend our time, what we see as valuable, and what pulls our heart-strings. What makes a so-called influencer or celebrity an authority on my attention? (Giving away your attention to someone, even if I do it mindlessly, is to surrender that moment in time to them.) Why should I spend a second listening to him or her tell me what they think? Of what value is yet another trending lip sync? Why should the cause of someone famous matter more to me than a moment with my elderly grandmother? Why is their opinion more significant to me than the opinion of my parents? Why should a trending cause matter more to me than the causes that have mattered most to me my whole life? Why is what they buy something I need to buy? Why is what they wear something I need to wear? And why should I care? Why should my life be so influenced by someone who doesn't even know I exist?
What happens when so-called authorities are revealed to lack the answers, to be unable to respond effectively, and incapable of providing the necessary leadership? We are seeing this now with the health and economic crisis. Does authority simply lie in historicity, popularity, tradition, and convention?
As Covid-19 kept all of us indoors, insecure, and in fear, I did what any rational person would do, look to authorities for answers. Here's what I quickly realized: in this grave situation, and in all my life's greatest crises, it was never the authorities that exhibited superior understanding, superior character, superior capability, and superior compassion but family, close friends, and me. It wasn't some abstract idea of an institution that promised benefits nor provided the answers. It wasn't some wise man out there, some must-read book, nor some eloquent famous person, that spoke to me. It was the very real, very local, very connected, and very affected people, including myself, that provided the understanding, the character, the capability, and the compassion I needed to overcome the situation.
This reminded me of a principle I have been applying to my work teams for years: The Authority must match the Accountability and vice versa.
Personally, for me, three foundational concepts, that were already undergoing a transformation the last few years, have been even more altered from this experience. Those three concepts are: Capitalism, Christianity, and Community. A lot of what I understood to be universal truths haven't turned out to be universal nor true, even as their value has allowed them to propagate so deeply and lastingly.
I asked myself three questions as I evaluated the different areas of my life:
As I share my thoughts, I want to be very clear that this is not an attempt to discover nor define something universal, some truth or formula that everyone can apply to live a better life. I also want to be clear that these are my *personal* thoughts, not the positions of those connected to me. These are simply my own reflections on my own journey. If they offend you, feel free to disregard them. If they challenge you, feel free to overcome them. If they somehow benefit you, I'm glad, but that is by pure chance. These thoughts are written for me.
My reflections are divided into parts, parts that I may add to, but for now, I have four: