We won’t be nicer. But we might be wiser.
You can get this essay in whichever medium best helps you think. It’s been published as:
Here’s the gist. (You’ll need to link above to read the full article.)
This shared crisis moment has given us the opportunity to show one another that ‘community’ means something — something big and important.
And now, as the phases of this pandemic pass from crisis into containment, reopening then recovery, a lot of us have begun to worry: Will we still be nicer to one another when this crisis fades into memory?
This is entirely the wrong question.
It will lead us down a path to disappointment. Worse, by taking it, we will miss the path to wisdom.
We want so much to exit this pandemic event and enter into a kinder, more compassionate world. But let’s admit it: Even during the worst of this crisis, our circle of concern failed to extend beyond some familiar borders…Now evidence is growing that our compassion hits familiar limits within our countries too.
The narrative that this shared experience has brought us together is a beautiful one. And it is true. Unless by “us” you mean everyone.
So, no, in the post-pandemic future, I don’t expect we’ll be nicer. The facts don’t support that fantasy.
The sooner we let that fantasy go, the sooner we will see the path to genuine wisdom.
The strength of a community isn’t rooted in how nice we are to one another. It’s rooted in us each realizing how much we depend on one another for our own wellbeing.
To exit this pandemic into a better, brighter future together, we don’t need to hold onto a stronger sense of compassion for others; all we need to hold onto is a stronger sense of our own fragility.
And here, the facts are more consistently in our favour…
From the kitchen table to the cabinet office, we are in the midst of a brush with doom. There are already signs that it is broadening our sense of self-interest. As individuals…In business…In politics…
At great cost, we’ve all been gifted with a rare insight. COVID-19 has turned an abstract truth of the human condition into everybody’s direct personal experience: my wellbeing depends on you, and so your wellbeing makes me stronger.
We won’t be nicer. But we might be wiser. And if we each hold onto this newfound wisdom, then as a community we will become much stronger — and more resilient to the next shock that none of us will see coming.
If you want more stimulus to go deeper into this question, here’s a few links that I really like:
- Aeon Magazine published a good piece about the newly obvious tensions between “private gain” and “public good”.
- My friends at the Center for Public Impact asked, “Do leaders need to be more human?”
- Politico and Casey Newton explored how populism and fake news have magnified the costs of the pandemic.
- LSE hosted a debate on “What will the impact of COVID-19 be on globalization?”
- Errare Humanum Est. A snippet of old wisdom.
- Vaughn Tan’s post on “resilience”