I'm a Hannah Arendt fan. She often took two words that were often used as synonyms, identified a difference, and then found meaning in that difference. For example, consider the words action and behavior:
It’s not that far, really.
Just off my back deck and down the hill
Through what I still remember as pasture for our mare,
To the little wooden foot bridge o’er the stream.
No, it’s not that far in steps, though in full winter
When the snow is newly deep, the going is slow and makes you wish
You’d bothered with your snow shoes.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across multiple spheres of American society is a novel event. Some have used the term black swan, Taleb's term for an event that can't be anticipated because it is outside the realm of experience. I prefer to think of it as a gray rhino, Michele Wucker's term for the big and obvious thing coming at you that you don't want to acknowledge. I think of this as a threat to our society writ large, not just as a threat to our economy or even just to public health. I think those narrow framings guarantee inadequate analysis and response.
As the severity of the novel coronavirus becomes obvious to more and more people, and as they begin to grasp the depth and duration of the changes in daily life that will be required of all of us, it is worth thinking about the need to protect and strengthen the social fabric on which we all depend. In fact, the changes are likely to be so profound that they provide an opportunity for a 'reboot' into a new 'operating system' better designed for our future than our past.
This snippet nicely expresses what I hope anchors our core values going forward:
I have been getting lots of requests for ‘my opinion’ about the novel coronavirus pandemic, where we are now, and what is coming. Here goes:
My family, friends, and colleagues know I speak out or act up when I see something I think is wrong. When asked why, my usual answer is that I was raised to examine and question things, to seek information, to make up my own mind, and to always behave in a way that is true to my values.
This explanation is true but incomplete, as it fails to convey my belief that silence is a form of acceptance and can be tantamount to endorsement. I offer an anecdote from my childhood as an illustration of what I mean.
Me (in my head): You should go for a run.
Me (in my head): But it's raining.
Me (in my head): What's your point?
Me (in my head): But it's raining.
Me (out loud): I should go for a run.
Spouse: Why don't you?
Me: It's raining.
Me: I used to like to run in the rain.
Spouse: What changed?
Me: I got older.
Spouse: But what changed about running in the rain.
Me: I don't relish discomfort anymore.
Pause...changes into running gear.
Me (back from run in the rain): That was great!
We Americans like to think (and boast) about our great experiment in Democracy: that we are a nation founded on the principle so famously expressed by Thomas Jefferson that all are created equal and endowed by God from birth with an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
As they say these days: not so much.
I have a question for white folks reading this: Have you or your family benefitted from affirmative action laws or policies? If your answer is ‘no’ I wonder if you will feel differently after reading this post.
This is Derek Sivers' version of a quote based on the opening of a David Foster Wallace address* to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College: