Waiting

No better waiting than this.

What do you do when you feel like you have no control over what is happening around you? Do you worry, or do you accept your fate? Or something in between?

A few months ago I was in a Saigon coffee shop chatting with my computer scientist friend Long and my writer friend Reece. Reece is from New York originally, but has made Vietnam his new home. We had been friends for many years, and tried to meet at least once every two weeks. I had just introduced Long to him, and we were talking about technology, a bit of philosophy, a bit of teaching, but the topic that dominated most of our conversation, just like all other conversations at the time, was the unfolding pandemic.

“We had to interrupt the classes. It’s not good. We were preparing for the exams in a few months, so now I don’t know what we are going to do.”, said Long with a pained expression on his face.

Reece complemented: “Yeah, I am lucky that all my work is remote anyway, so it hasn’t affected me much.”

“Do you guys feel we should just wait it out, and hope that things will get better soon?”

Long raises his hand and twists it from side to side, the way Vietnamese gesture for ‘no’: “Cannot do that. We need to adapt. We don’t know how long this will last. We need to make a plan and change the way we do things. I am very worried. And you two should be worried too.”

“I think we shouldn’t overreact. These crises happen in cycles, there’s always a recession, or a stock market crash, and eventually everything goes back to what it was before. Just ride the wave out, that’s what I say.”, stated Reece confidently.

I had my own thoughts, but before I shared them I wanted to hear the position of each of them in more detail, to see if I could understand their context, where they are coming from. In my experience most of the time that people disagree is not because they hold diametrically opposing thoughts, but more because they started from different positions, and are seeing the same problem from their own perspective.

“So Reece, don’t you worry that if this turns out to be a more prolonged recession, work might start drying up?”

“Yeah, I suppose there’s that danger. But I have some money saved for eventualities like that, so I can just ride it out.”

Long interjects: “You are assuming that it will get back to normal. But what if it doesn’t? What if we reach a breaking point and everything changes in a way that we cannot predict now?”

“I don’t think that’s likely. Besides, I have a couple of projects going on at the same time. If one gets cancelled, the one one will surely go through.”

Long didn’t sound convinced. I turn to him and ask: “Long, what makes you so worried?”

“I worry for the exams, of course, but I also worry long term. We will have to cancel next term completely if the lockdown continues.”

Reece frowns, pulling his head backwards: “You don’t have a plan B, a way to adapt? Maybe the university should be thinking of how they can change the curriculum, or teach remotely via video?”

“We don’t have time, we have to act quickly. People need to know what is going to happen, they need certainty.” responds Long with measured words, but with his tone of voice betraying his hopelessness. “What do you think?”, he asks, turning to me.

Waiting. If you are sincere,

You have light and success.

Perseverance brings good fortune.

It furthers one to cross the great water.

This is a situation unprecedented in our lifetime. Certainly we cannot act as if nothing is happening, and bury our heads in the sand. Self-deception is the enemy. We must have the courage to face things exactly as they are. But also to plunge ahead and make changes without due consideration is not wise. I have strong opinions about this as many times in my life I have been in situations where I had little control over what was happening around, and had to learn the hard way not to be impatient, but also to make the correct preparations to come out strong from the other side.

With these thoughts in my mind I say my piece:

“The rain will come in its own time. We cannot make it come, we have to wait for it. There is danger in the situation, so we need to be strong. But strength in the face of danger is not to rush impatiently, but to bid our time. If we are weak, in the face of danger we grow agitated, and don’t have the patience to wait.”

“Waiting though is not simply hoping that things will change by themselves, without effort from our part. Good waiting is when we have the certainty that we will reach our goal, without illusions, being honest about our situation. We have to know that all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, we have made our contribution, so all we can do now is wait.”

“Once we have all the facts, know we have done our best, have come to terms with reality, then we are prepared, and can wait and act with resolution and perseverance. When we are preparing the broth for phở, we need to make sure we have all the ingredients. Then when we start cooking, the broth will then be ready when it is ready, there’s no use being anxious about it.”

“That sounds very Confucian.” says Reece with a small giggle. He knows me well.

“Hmmm, you are right.” nods Long. “Rushing is rarely good. I think this is a time for us to think deep, make ourselves strong inside, and be prepared for what will come on the other side.”

“Wise words. I think my hunger is starting to make me feel impatient. Let’s make ourselves strong with some warm soup.”

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The Book of Changes is a great source of insight. We explore each of the hexagrams in a modern context.

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Marco Zanchi

Marco Zanchi

Interested in mathematics, philosophy, and language. Head of engineering for BridgeU

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