While there is certainly no shortage of negative components to the recent status of the world, I do believe that we are also looking at a very set of unique opportunities as well. Opportunities to relook and revise how we approach just about everything in our lives and our societies. It’s not that everything is bad and needs to be thrown out, but we have a once in a generation opportunity now to truly look at how we do things and ask the obvious questions of how can we make it better – how can we make it better reflect the society and people we want to be.
This is true for both small and large things, personal decisions and public policy, the simple and the complex. We are in waters uncharted for the past one hundred years as most of us are staying close to home and being forced to re-engineer the way we live many facets of our lives. If we look at the aftermath of the last “great” pandemic in the early twentieth century we can point to an immense shift in how lives were led, how we cared for each other as a society, and what we decided we would invest in to allow our economies to grow. Not everything can be traced back exactly to the Spanish Flu, as certainly the Great Depression and two world wars had a massive impact on our societies, but we definitely stand at a very similar precipice. Do we continue to push our societies and personal lives down the paths laid out in the previous century or do we take this opportunity to drive the changes that we see are needed?
This is not about politics, as let’s face it, politics in the last couple of decades has become one of the most ineffectual means of changing societies and plotting courses for the future. Our systems have become bogged down in extreme partisanship and somehow along the way the words “compromise” and “coming together” have become not only foreign, but almost curse words when it comes to politics. If we are going to create new systems, or even simply renovate existing ones, we need to take ideas from across the spectrum and build consensus that will bring the largest amount of opportunity, health and happiness to us all. Above all, we need to go into this without thinking of this as a zero-sum game, where anything gained by anyone else comes at the expense of someone else. I truly believe it is possible to craft win-win situations and systems so that we are all lifted together and there still continue to be strong incentives for those of us who want to put in more effort and are willing to bet on themselves in challenging the status quo.
Every facet of our societies should be open to questions, with an eye to making the changes required for all to prosper in this new century. Some of the ways we have done things are still working, and may just need minor tweaks, but unfortunately too many of our institutions and ways of doing things need a much bigger overhaul for us to be able to move forward and drive innovation and growth. Take the education system as an example. How do we move from a system that is designed to simply teach students how to succeed at taking tests to a system that actually teaches children how to learn across their whole lifetime? In business, when recruiting, the buzzwords and talents we look for are things like creative thinking, critical thinking, self-reliance, ability to collaborate, self-starters, etc.. As having been through the education system last century, and with a daughter currently in high school and a wife that teaches at a university, nowhere do most of these subjects show up in the curriculum. What an amazing opportunity we have right now, even if it is for the worst of reasons, to begin to redefine what our education system should look like. Not to mention the efforts we need to put in to ensure that everyone has the same access and opportunities. How many people are we missing out on that could bring wholesale innovation to our world simply because we are not providing them the basic access to an education system that would grow their gifts. We need to start looking at education as the investment in our societies that it is.
Even simple things like managing traffic congestion in our cities are suddenly much more open for debate as we have seen the impact of dramatic drops in traffic due to sheltering at home. Finally the concept of some streets being used for pedestrian traffic, increased bicycle use, or simply more space for outdoor dining and entertainment options seem like doable ideas versus the old way of thinking that nothing should impede the flow of cars. Small changes that not only have a big impact on making neighborhoods more welcoming but of taking cars off the street and reducing air pollution are sitting right in front of us.
We need to look at our financial systems to ensure we are rewarding true innovation and that capital is flowing to the ideas and projects that will move our societies forward. We have to address the parts of the system that seem intended to punish those already on the low end of the income ladder. How is it, in developed societies like ours, so many people are left “unbanked” and at the mercy of huge fees and obstacles to simply managing the money they do have. How is it that we allow it to cost the most for those that have the least just to have access to money they have earned. Given the technology we have, we just need to rethink banking laws and financial systems that were designed for a bygone age. The same is true for our medical systems, as the pandemic has shown clearly where our strengths and weaknesses are. No one should go without basic healthcare, but beyond that how do we pivot to stronger preventative care and ensuring that we get healthier as a society so we are more resilient when the next challenge comes along.
Those are just a few examples, but we have an opportunity to impact how we are going to eat, shop, live, do business, protect the planet, prepare our kids for future employment – basically everything about life in the twenty-first century. We just need to start having some open conversations about these topics while truly listening to the various constituencies impacted by each facet. This is not about casting villains and tearing down everything we have built to this point, but simply defending the status quo because it is the status quo is not an option either, especially for those of us who continue to enjoy privilege simply because of the current systems. Let’s put our best selves out there and draw the best out of our communities. Start small with your own choices, but find what you are passionate about and get involved at some level. This is our society and we all should have a say in what it looks like, in fact I would go a step further and say we all have a responsibility to make ourselves heard on how we want to live as individuals, families and communities moving forward.
As always, let me know your thoughts.
The Free Range Viking