Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.Arundhati Roy
There were three influenza pandemics in the 20th Century, 1918, 1957 and 1968. If pandemics are portals then they played their part in getting us here. Now. And, perhaps this is a better world.
To some it feels more fragile, closer to collapse. To others it feel ‘better than ever’. For many it is hell on earth.
We know from history that civilisations rise and fall. Some think we are still ‘on the rise’ and that existing ways of living and organising have much more to offer. Others, like Arundhati Roy, think that what is happening is ‘like the wreckage of a train that has been careening down the track for years’. That we are well into ‘the fall’.
How might this pandemic be different? How might we imagine a better world and understand what it means, personally, to contribute to realising it?
What roles can we play in achieving a better world?
Imagining a better world is done by looking for clues about what ‘better’ looks like in our present world. The ‘present world’ that permits prejudice, hatred, avarice, data banks, dead ideas, dead rivers and smoky skies; but it also permits love, generosity, happiness and more sustainable ways of being. Indeed for some the rivers and skies are already clearing.
- We must see what a better world looks in what is already around us. We must encourage and nurture these glimpses. Spread them. They must become our practice – rather than things we turn to during the crisis.
Recognising what we believe is ‘better’ is not straightforward. For those that believe we are still on the rise, then getting back to normal, the recovery of the economy and the stock markets and the re-establishing of the old patterns of social order can’t come quickly enough. Those that believe the train has been careening out of control for too long are determined not to get back on it. That it should not run again. They want to see new patterns of social order emerge.
How can we find a way for both of these beliefs to play a full role in realising a better future without division. Perhaps tolerance and learning will take centre stage rather than judgement and condemnation?
Developing and improving what is ‘necessary’ and ‘becoming’
What aspects of the current world are both necessary and becoming? Health and care systems, schools, farms, communities, shops, creativity, play and green spaces? Clear air and clear skies?
At this time more than ever we can see what it is that we value and need most if we are to live well together. We must support the development of what we believe to be both necessary and becoming. But perhaps we must hold our beliefs lightly. While we work for them and we must also be prepared to change them as we learn more about how things are developing. Dogmatism will serve us poorly.
For too long improvement has been primarily about efficiency and productivity. Of course this matters. But so do does capability and capacity to handle change in a volatile, uncertain complex and ambiguous world, where a single mutation in a a single virus can bring us close to collapse. Agility, adaptability, making the most of all of our human potential and ingenuity for self organisation has never felt more important. This brings with it implications for education, training and development. Perhaps less emphasis on compliance and more emphasis on values led experimentation. An awareness of ethics and a global perspective on environmental and social justice
Having more than we need may be inefficient in the short term, but prudent. Our improvement perspectives need to go beyond the quarterly statement and annual report to look at longer timeframes and greater challenges. We must stop externalising our costs and pushing them further into the future to be tackled by our children and their children. If w remembered our history, pandemics might not catch us unprepared.
Reducing our reliance on what is ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unbecoming’
We must learn to live without goods and services that are neither necessary nor becoming. We must find ways to discourage profit taking that depends on destroying health and happiness. We must resist those that manufacture desire for products and services that we too easily want but don’t need.
We must change lifestyles that produce unnecessary waste instead of reusing, repairing and recycling.
Organisations and systems that concentrate capital in the hands of the few must be encouraged to distribute that value much more widely, so that no-one is left behind. Fairer taxation and wage structures, and true recognition of externalised costs might be places to start.
We might want to rely on our governments to make the changes. To wait for them to create this downward pressure on the unnecessary and the unbecoming But we make political decisions every time we open our wallets, share our thoughts, listen and learn.
Recognising and valuing a variety of contributions
Those that lead, manage and work in our most valuable, if far from perfect institutions, cant stop polluting overnight. They can’t overcome a civilisations history of discrimination and oppression overnight. The pragmatists who keep things running and do their best to change need support.
Those that demand that we stop polluting, stop destroying, stop hating, stop discriminating, stop killing. The idealists who hold us to account for how far short we fall of how our best selves could be. Even when they disrupt our lives, and our consciences, with their protestations and pleas, we must learn to recognise the possibilities inherent in the truth they stand for. They to need our support.
Those that try. Those that experiment with new ways of doing things, new ways of organising, living, making and being in the hope that they can make something a little better than what has gone before. The innovators, risk-takers, the ones that try, fail and try again. The innovators too need our support.
So perhaps now is not the time to look to ‘authority’ to make us a better world. Perhaps now is the time for us to turn in, to reflect and to see what part we can play in supporting the growth of what is necessary and becoming?
Chance to explore this on Wednesday April 15th…https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/shifting-paradigms-tickets-99994618596
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