It goes without saying COVID-19 has forced a reckoning; well beyond its sweeping global impact, the devastating human toll, and sweeping economic turmoil that will reverberate for generations. In many ways the pandemic has proven the old adage that every action, or inaction has consequences. It has revealed that humanity is not too big to fail or immune to forces pushing back, even when what’s pushing at you is virtually invisible, (literally 125 millionth of a metre).
Before COVID became a household word, 2020 came upon us like none other, catastrophic accidents, environmental turmoil, global conflicts that did get our attention albeit briefly, when suddenly, we were all singularity focused on our collective survival. Until that moment, it was difficult to get our attention, in this loud, crowded age of information, hearing about a virus moving towards us seemed surreal, unbelievable. Then it got real. Suddenly, we stopped, moving our focus from unbridled individualism, consumption, toxic politics, celebrity and deep divisions about the environment and stopped.
In disbelief we stopped and began to understand what we were facing and listened reluctantly, with initial skepticism, as we processed what we needed to do for our collective wellbeing. The scientific community painted the picture for us, years of austerity measures and deep cuts to health and social systems exposed a thin veil rather than the robust infrastructure to respond to what was coming.
Then the shoe dropped, we, the citizenry would have to take extraordinary measures at unprecedented levels if we stood a chance against the pandemic. Governments at all levels looked at modelling scenarios, data from other jurisdictions and mapped it against our health care capacity and quickly understood we had to surrender our freedoms, businesses and incomes to flatten the curve and stem the spread.
Some countries, we would learn, took a different path, sacrificing a segment of their population to get through the surge quicker because their economies could not bear the brunt of a pause. They let their citizens get sick or die so that they would get through the worst of it faster. We took the Canadian approach, the long game, the path that preserved and saved the greatest number.
Weeks turned into months as we bear down in our collective pause and with that, much was revealed…some of it good, some of it hard to face, along with some great lessons I hope we are ready to receive.
Friedrich Nietzsche taught us that chaos gives birth to dancing stars, this is immeasurably true of course with COVID. We did learn and innovate through the chaos….
Staying apart, made us closer, appreciate each other. Families reconnected in many cases, or got closer even while distanced from each other. The frenetic pace of juggling work, activities, child care and well all that other stuff was gone. And sure, it was not easy, but years from now I have no doubt some of it will be remembered fondly. Even as restrictions lift to some degree, many families have found a new balance in the new normal.
COVID has accelerated innovation in ways that months ago were unimaginable. We suddenly have a platform to make necessary changes that previously were stuck due to resources availability, politics or inertia now moving at lightning speed. We have a new appreciation for what we formerly took for granted, whether it's our courageous front line in healthcare, the local grocer, shopkeeper, educator, childcare provider, we now understand their inherent value that supports our collective progress and wellbeing.
We also in some ways have a new appreciation for government. After mostly tuning out toxic political vitriol, we collectively witnessed an unprecedented government response to help Canadians in ways we never believed possible. We’re proving that when we need to, we can break down barriers, policies and process to do the right thing. Covid is a springboard for innovation. Much has been established and launched in response to Covid because we have no choice.
In a world where a debate has been raging about the veracity of climate change, COVID revealed a planet that was healing when humanity backed off and stayed home. Suddenly we saw clear water in some places, wildlife returning in others, clearer atmospheres, quiet people in parks, on bikes, walking while distancing. Things we doubted, believed impossible, emerged as we came together and adjusted.
But it's hardly all been good…
COVID of course, revealed the horrifying manner in which we treat our elders. We all sort of knew that our approach was lacking, but the toll that COVID has had has been catastrophic. It has clearly become the catalyst for focus, investment and realignment at a horrible cost.
COVID also revealed a long held truth, that the most vulnerable will suffer the most during challenging times. Challenges we are facing in the west are exacerbated by widespread poverty, fragile health and social infrastructure and deep inequality in developing countries. Whether it's the poorly paid, PSWs, many who are new Canadians barely making a living wage and living in conditions that are like a petri dish or the homeless population who cannot possibly isolate when living on our sidewalks, we have betrayed the most vulnerable once again. Covid has become the measure of how we treat our most vulnerable and we need to step up.
And then there’s the devastating impacts of isolation. Our collective experience with isolation and physical distancing, gave us the lived experience of millions, living in isolation due to accessibility, socio-economics, or health challenges that can feel like a life sentence. Prior to COVID loneliness was set to become the next pandemic within our ageing population, COVID just tipped it over to a crisis. It is more than time to flatten the loneliness curve now that we had a taste of it.
As always, I could go on but it’s time to get to the point....
Yes we have suffered, we have lost, we have sacrificed, we have been tested…..and we have learned. But our education is hardly finished, we are still being taught, more hard lessons, hard truths, innovations and revelations are ahead. We have surpassed our low expectations of ourselves in demonstrating what we can overcome and accomplish when everything is at stake. Let us embrace our resilience and take it forward beyond this historic challenge into everything we will face as one humanity and seize it, relentlessly.
If we don’t learn the hard lessons we will prove that we are in fact not too big or powerful to fail, we share vulnerabilities just as we share collective strength. Let this experience move us beyond the information age into the age of wisdom with openness to these lessons with empathy, universal love and humility.
Let this challenge, the greatest challenge of our generation be our greatest point of enlightenment.