Predict
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Predict

The Long Pause

Propelling a leap in consciousness

Stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. We’re in for the long haul.

I haven’t known what to think. And I know I’m not alone. Typically we express ourselves with all our idiosyncrasies as well as with laughter, closeness, and touch. All hugs, handshakes, hand high fives are on hold But now there’s an emergent practice: physical distance with social connection.

What’s going on in the world is not something to be processed intellectually. The suffering, the solitude, the shock of it all begs to be felt — to be lived. Unless you’re working on the front-line or providing an essential service, the absolute best way to make a contribution right now is (and for some, it’s no choice) to stay home. To retreat.

To help us connect with each other we’re forced to favour the tone of voice and our choice of words. Non-verbal communication, which makes up for 80–90% of our sense-making abilities, is tough on a 2D video chat (Hey, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?). And our usual ways of discerning what the hell’s going on using spatial distance — with the advantages of close proximity with those whom we feel safe — has been tossed out the window.

It’s hard to know what’s what. We can’t even be sure if we ourselves pose the threat. Discerning fact from fiction is increasingly challenging. Picking up the signal from the noise seems an impossible feat.

And that’s O.K.

Sensing

Feelings of control and chaos come in waves. As soon as we think we have a grasp on things, that we’ve got some sort of foothold, the tide changes. Another wave comes, and dammit, we have to start all over again making sense of things. The best we can do is to get comfortable with the uncertainty — to actively make friends with it.

The very first thing properly trained responders do when they arrive on an emergency scene, is taking a pause. They breathe. They scan the scene to get a bird’s eye view. What this crucial moment does is provide for heightened awareness, a wider perspective — but also for a sense of calmness. It enables better decision making in an environment charged with stress, anxiety, and fear. The pause permits wiser action.

Now is a time for a collective pause. It’s time to gain, not lose perspective.

Meaning

We’re now presented with a wonderful opportunity. It may not feel it amidst all the pain and suffering, pandemonium, and paranoia — but we are. It’s nuanced and textured. We have the benefit of reassessing the values we value. We have a chance to reset, to shift priorities, and change our cultural-cognitive grammar.

Indeed an entirely new lexicon of vocabulary (I’ll keep my distance here and spare you the details as I’m sure you’ve heard/read enough) has surfaced. But we already have shared vocabulary that’s worth re-investigating: duty, morality, mortality, inequality, access, etiquette, fairness, compassion, collaboration, dignity, solidarity, connection, family, joy, and borders. To be sure the border here isn’t between nations — but between humans and the virus.

Bugs like this one don’t discriminate.

Among the many openings laid before us is our relationship to the planet, to others, and the self. Indeed, as the physical regularities of our lives are stripped away, the relational and psychological ways of making meaning become more acute.

Who am I to you in this interaction? And who are you to me? Appreciating and being aware of this feels more urgent than ever. Our real-time sense-making skills are working overtime. So we soup up our decoding abilities, flex our intuition, and trust our gut. In these deep times, connections feel more meaningful, ever more soulful. Just the question, “How are you doing?” has an inherent heaviness.

I’m aware that I may be confusing my making sense of things and my sense of meaning. Indeed, we often confuse urgency with meaning. Because the pressure is so heavy and the exigency so real, we attribute what we’re experiencing right now as supremely significant.

We’re forced to confront our fatality.

Working

And just like that, the future of work is here. For us in the wired world, we’re becoming more digital day by day. We cultivate virtual pen-pals, thoughtful online interactions, and other inventive ways to stay sane and sharp working remotely from home. After quarantining for 10 days a close friend wrote to me:

This weird disease has two sides to it. I wonder what will happen when all the people who have been working remotely go back into their office grind. I’m sure there will be some relief initially, back to the comfort and safety of a world where you don’t have to be paranoid every stranger in an 8-metre radius can breathe bad bacteria into your lungs, at the same time they’ll come to realise that some of the routines and rituals they established for themselves during their remote stint, suit them much better than the cog in the machine they feel like in the office. That is, unless you want to join Bozo’s new delivery army…

It made my day, and in a way, these constraints have prompted us to be serious and silly in equal measure. But the gravity of what’s unfolding is hard to ignore. One in five Americans has lost working hours or jobs due to this pandemic. And a world without work is just around the corner. Our response so far; whether it’s paid leave, basic income, reskilling, job-sharing, or some other measure — is insufficient.

This is a watershed moment to move towards a better system of work.

Playing

It’s hard to feel light when things are so heavy. But it’s imperative to take time to unwind the mind. To have a little fun. And there’s no shortage of selection: Instagram Live ecstatic dance parties, fireside digital campfires, meditations in an emergency, virtual conferences (O.K. this one might be classified as work), urban isolation skateboard films, and needle felting instructions videos are just the tip of the iceberg. People have time on their hands.

And play and boredom go hand and hand. They are the breeding ground for creativity. In times of crisis, the pair can yield some of our finest innovations. The computer, nuclear power, the V-2 rocket, penicillin, radar, radio, jet engines, synthetic rubber, pressurized cabins, and the jerrycan — all came into existence because of WWII.

Everything changed.

Repairing

Tikkun Olam is a Jewish concept that loosely translates as ‘repair the world’. It points to the acts of kindness and social solidarity we’re witnessing around the globe. Our response must take the long view. Another pandemic will eventually come but this one should be all the warning we need.

The looming financial crisis is inevitable. It’s going to suck. Yet it’s worth acknowledging that there’s no ‘normal’ to claw back to. Although we may behave like it more often than not, we aren’t designed to serve the economy.

Yes, we will congregate and consume again, but it will never be quite the same. Like WWII or 911 — the individual psyche is shifting. This pandemic is a war on our collective consciousness. It’s a test of our resilience and capacity to lean into the liminal.

The asymmetry forces us to adopt new behaviours, new ways of thinking, and new ways of being. For some, this manifests more as defiance. For others, it shows up as humility. Either way, this is the time not to shun our humanity but to seize it.

The question should not be if we’ll play the same record when the tide goes out — but what new tune we’ll choose to sing.

I’m Jonas. I think and write about work. If you enjoyed this please consider giving it a few claps 👏 You can also join my free Zoom sessions by here

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