It’s an understatement to say that this is a extraordinary time. Uncertainly about the severity and duration of the crisis makes it all the more so.
I think it’s also safe to say that it is difficult for all of us both personally and professionally. From a business perspective, I’m sure that possibilities we had all been hoping or planning for in 2020 will not materialize. For others, the economic damage will be far more severe than just unfulfilled growth. Even when we may get glimmers of good news, we are in a period where the good news feels fragile while the bad news feels certain.
Those of us in the communications business have important roles to play. This crisis is far from over and as it evolves, uncertainty, misinformation and confusion will continue to plague us. If there was ever a time for clear thinking, critical assessments and honest public communications, this is it.
In a broader sense, I just want to reiterate what we all already know. We will all get through this. Over the past month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1918 pandemic and what it can tell us. It was sudden and merciless. It killed more than 50 million people, including more than 650,000 Americans. Modern medicine was in its infancy and most people had no understanding of what was really happening or why — microscopes capable of seeing something as small as a virus didn’t even exist yet. It also came near the end of WW1 which had killed 11 million people, left large parts of Europe waste, and upended the geopolitical order.
Context is always important. The war had also put a quick end to the dominant 19th Century faith in “benevolent progress”. It eroded some of the best attributes of western civilization — its optimism and hopefulness. This cultural weakening created even more despair as the 1918 pandemic washed over us while undermining public faith in the ability of our institutions to combat it. Many people literally thought it was the end of the world.
The point of this comparison, of course, is that it wasn’t the end of the world. They got through it with far fewer tools and far less understanding than we have today. Ravaged by war and weakened by cultural depression and political infighting, they still prevailed. They invented public health systems around the world and the global discipline of epidemiology that enabled public health professionals to uncover COVID-19 as early as they did. Public health and medicine were revolutionized by the pandemic.
Like them, we will get through this very difficult moment and we will be better for the experience. Business will pick up. In-person lives will re-connect. We will get better healthcare, more science funding and more resilient systems. Let’s all plan to do our parts to make that better future happen. But for now, stay home, wash your hands, take care of yourselves and your families.
I’ll end with the most important thought of all. We have a mere 141 years until the creation of the United Federation of Planets on October 11, 2161. So, we have that to look forward to.