The Halfway Point
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”Blaise Pascal
“Running to Stand Still” is the title of the 5th track on U2’s 1980 Joshua Tree album. A song that I think aptly describes 2020 up to its midpoint, when I started to write this post. For the first time in a while, I felt the compounded weight of multiple crises stacked concurrently on one another. Each struggle equally demanding my full attention. I have on more than one occasion felt lost in the malaise of overwhelming tension and worry. Ryan Holiday’s “The Daily Stoic” and meditation have been the release valves that have helped me maintain focus and peace. I have been lucky and fortunate to have not have been as impacted as others.
When Covid fully exploded on the scene it made sense to enter into a Quarantine. The original meaning of quarantine refers to a given 40-day period. Similar to how a fortnight refers to a two-week period. For our house, that meant working from home and following personal pursuits that would help to pass the expected 40-day window. For others it meant wondering how to take care of their families and bring in some sort of income. The collective panic in the news, infection rates & death counts, and potential economic disaster have been soul crushing. Feeling powerless to do anything to significantly help is frustrating. The best you can do is stay home, wear a mask when out, and cut out non-essential activties. So that is what we did, stay home and stay safe.
The initial quarantine period was an opportunity to pursue personal growth in many capacities. We cooked more during this period than probably the entire collective decade plus that we have been together. We took Data Science courses. We read exhaustively, worked out religiously, and pursued hobbies like learning guitar and gardening. The whole thing was refreshing and a welcome break from our usually heavy work driven travel routine; living life out of planes, hotels, and Lyft rides. The Idealist in me hoped this period would pass the same for everyone else, but I know this was wishful thinking at best.
At the very least, I hoped that, like Pascal’s quote above, that we could learn to embrace the stillness of the world, for a little while and engage with the intricacies of a world often blurred by the busyness of meetings, traffic, and to do lists. It seemed just looking back to 1918, we would learn from our past mistakes to embolden ourselves to wait patiently for at least 40-days and nights so that we collectively could work together to save lives. In the US at least, we could not even manage a proper quarantine for the given length of time inherent in its name. We instead were left with the infuriating images of AR-15 wielding complainers, waving placards demanding haircuts, and marching mask-less to state houses. How weak are these people that they cannot sit quietly inside their own homes for the greater good?
The images of these selfish individuals illustrated that Proof and Rational is not enough to move a man to struggle through a crisis, so that they can help their fellow man. It was in this moment that I realized, that at least in the US, that too many of us are fully incapable of learning from our mistakes or enduring any basic hardship brought on by inconvenience.
In 2007 Apple launched the original iPhone. The smart phone revolution brought about many key revolutionary behavioral changes; some good and others terrible. One major benefit is that it has made each and everyone of us, an amateur film maker and documentarian. In this way, a camera in every hand and easy social media distribution has helped to bring the black experience to the forefront. The collective experience of people like me can no longer be easily overlooked, unless you choose to turn away from an 8 minute and 46 second video of a man’s life being violently snuffed out while onlookers plead for mercy.
The racial debate that has come after has been both uplifting and frustrating. Most importantly, allies now step to the front of some lines and force uncomfortable and much delayed conversations to be had. I have seen people discussing and sharing all manner of books and film dealing with race and racism. From “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, to “Brian Stevenson’s “Just Mercy,” to Ava Duverney’s “The 13th.” At no time in my life as a black American have I seen so many white Americans finally able to have the difficult but needed conversations on systemic racism. Nor have I seen corporations put their money where their mouth is so deliberately. Or seen neighbors march and leave signs out in their yards demanding police reform and solidarity. Sadly, for all this development, the cowards who fear change and are emboldened by a racist-in-chief, find enough courage to come out and still spew their toxic hate. So while I look up with hope, I also look around careful of anyone wanting trouble.
This has been a trying year at best. With still much of it left to go and hopefully a life after to look back on all this turmoil as the “past.” So, where do we go from here? The optimist in me believes positively forward but only if the right chemistry of social changes come together. Transitions that need to happen at a macro and micro level to see a more resilient and cohesive world come out of the fires of 2020.
Viral research and inoculations came out of the 1918 pandemic. Likewise, we need a whole new approach to virus and disease management. Concurrently, we could benefit from a collective philosophy that values scientist, science, and medical expertise foremost. We should promote more work from home, widely distribute sanitary PPE, and enhance covered sick leave. Additionally, we need politicians and businesses to focus on delivering value that makes people’s lives better through a locally driven service economy and promoting products and goods that are not the cheap throw away editions. These plastic and insignificant products that have driven our vapid consumerist culture depend on a supply chain that crumbles in a Pandemic and brings down commerce with it. Lastly, we need to accept that America is a country built on a racist and sinful past. But even in that, there is the opportunity for redemption better than any other. A window to actually make lives better by looking and eradicating the racist underpinnings in every system of government, policing, education, housing, and more.