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  • Loy Bernal Carlos

2020 AND THE LESSONS WE'VE LEARNED (so far)


2020 is proving to be a year of tests. In academia, it is the equivalent of senior year when competence, aptitude, and attitude are all challenged and evaluated on a universal scale. Yet not unlike children, many have now spent nearly four months whining about the tests instead of focusing on the tasks at hand. We dwell on false competitions instead of preparing for how our individual and collective futures are going to be forever changed. As in most cases, solutions can only come after we've acknowledged that 1) problems exist and 2) that there is a willingness and commitment to make a change. Months in and a lot of things remain uncertain. But one thing that is clear is that change is inevitable. But what other things might have we learned, grown to appreciate, understand better because of Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown and the protests? Here are some that come to mind.

BACK TO THE BASICS

Gratitude is a prerequisite to happiness

As a child, I used to read Aesop's Fables in which a moral lesson is summarized at the end of each story. One that struck me most was this: "Contentment without lot is an element of happiness." Being forced to stop and slow down during the pandemic reminded us that there were too many things and many people in our lives that we were taking for granted. In this insanely fast-rolling 21st century where everything has to be quicker, faster, grander, bigger, better, and--well---about "me," tunnel vision is a common thing. So whatever or whomever is around us are easily taken for granted because we're always focused on the space other than where we are standing. If, during this time, you still have not looked around in awe of all that has been given to you, then it is highly likely that you are miserable. Nothing makes people whine annoyingly more than luxury problems. If you want to truly appreciate how far you've come, remember where you started. The distance from those two points is what gives you perspective. Otherwise you're just a hamster on a wheel.

There is nothing greater in life than life

Everything we do, we do for life. We eat, we work, we exercise, we get healed, we study--all because we are looking to get the most out of life, whether it be for ourselves, for our families or for others. Without life, nothing else exists. Or perhaps more accurately, without life nothing matters. And yet in the midst of this pandemic, I've heard people say, "If you die, you die." Yes, it is quite a dumb thing to say. But worse, there are actually people who believe this. Some people who have no respect for life should be considered suicidal or homicidal. There are people among us who are intellectually incapable of understanding that even the worst circumstances of bankruptcy, poverty, poor health, illiteracy, etc. has a chance of being rectified, resolved, overcome or ameliorated. In other words, however minute the probabilities, there is always a little drop of hope left in your cup as long as you are alive. Religions aside, there is no overcoming death. You don't get to start another company after you're dead. You don't get to build more memories with your friends and family after they pass away. Indeed if you die, you die. Hence, you shouldn't ask people to gamble everything and everyone they hold dear in order to satisfy your whims and indulgences.

Unlikeable people don't get more likable in a time of crisis (perhaps ever).

I'm lucky to have been perfectly aware since childhood to have no need to be around people I do not like. As I interacted with people during the pandemic, I was grateful to have my instinctive measure of people reinforced. I could plainly see that the selfish people did not become less selfish (never mind bing selfless), the narcissists are still preoccupied about how this is all taking away from people admiring them or that all these bad things are somehow the result of a galactic conspiracy against them. Superficial people are still showing off, dumb people are still pretending to know better. But the small group of compassionate, intelligent, considerate, and kind people with whom I've surrounded myself remain true. That may make my world seem small, but it's a nice world I am perfectly happy to live in.

A whole lot of respect was lost

At the beginning of the pandemic, I saw many companies quickly protect their bottom line. Employees, some of whom have been with the company for several years, were left to fend for themselves. In most cases, this happened way before any actual loss has been incurred by the firms. In some cases, smaller businesses that have far less resources to draw from fought harder and longer to keep their employees. The lockdown gave all of us time to contemplate. We saw things as they played out and we were all watching and paying attention. What many company executives don't know is that the curtains have been pulled and the "wizards of Oz" have all been exposed. People know now who has their back and who doesn't; and that has left an invisible but irreversible damage to relationships. Many who think they are in control are standing on quicksand. Time is not on their side. Pretty soon, no one will be.

In a time of crisis, power shifts quickly

We've seen this time and again when dictators who have ruled unchallenged for decades are suddenly deposed shortly after a crisis erupts. Crises are like earthquakes that have the ability to shake things up and quickly change the landscape. Suddenly we may find things that were up that have collapsed and those that were down have now been lifted. So goes for companies, institutions and people. These crises continue to shift the power base. Where it ends up is too soon to tell. But without a doubt, it will not be where they were in the beginning of the year. If I were a betting man, I would look to the little guys to gain the most. Those who are used to being battered by storms rebuild the fastest. New innovators will rise. New industries will be created. And most of these changes would be for the better and have been long overdue.

There is nothing wrong in seeing opportunities in a time of crisis

If you can contribute to finding solutions or in alleviating the effects of a crisis while simultaneously benefiting from it, then you should be rewarded for your ingenuity. The fashion houses who came up with designer masks is an example of taking advantage of an opportunity. Profiting from a crisis however, when done at the expense of others or to aggravate or prolong the agony of others is not the same. People who hoarded massive amounts of PPE with the intent to gouge prices is not inspired ingenuity, it was fueled by greed. And it cost lives.

Our visual image of a leader is the opposite of what it is

Especially in crisis situations, a leader is less likely to be seen. They are down in the trenches, waist deep in the muck. They don't demand that people do things, they do it themselves and people follow. Leaders are not in front of people, they are among them. They are not at the top of the pyramid, they are the base that hold the pyramid up. Leaders are always questioning their own moves and decisions. Their eyes are fixed not on themselves but on the people under them. They feel a strong sense of loyalty, a sense of responsibility and duty. Leaders don't abandon their crew when things get tough. For true leaders, to do so would be the ultimate failure. Thus the next one...

Despite the old saying, people are not dispensable

No success is without the cumulative effort of people who make things possible. We have learned that workers whom we barely noticed in actuality provide more essential services to us than we realized. From healthcare providers to grocery stock people, from agricultural farmhands who plant and gather to the delivery people who bring us what we need, a lot of these are low wage earners who barely get by but whom we cannot do without. Yet it is the big guys at the top who has long been the focus of the public's admiration. After all, tired, calloused, dirty hands are probably not ideally tweetable or instagramable. But these weathered hands are the ones that nourish us. They are the ones that heal us. It took a crisis to spotlight what should have been self-evident: everyone has worth, and we should recognize them regardless of their often unglamorous positions in life.

No institution or corporation will continue to exist unless its goal is aligned towards service

More importantly, as population grows and our resources become more limited, companies will have no choice but to focus their vision towards the furtherance of the common good. Regardless of our financial philosophies, the reality is that ultimately everything depends on our mutual survival. There is no such thing as a marketplace without people. People first.

The future is a roll of thread that can be rolled out or rolled into a tiny ball

When we plan for and visualize the future, we have to keep in mind that it can be years-long or seconds-short. This should keep our priorities in order and our attitudes in check.

The time we notice is the only one that matters

Life can easily pass us by. We should always try to remember our reason for doing anything. I will never understand people who spend all five weekdays dreaming about the two-day weekend. If you're not living all seven days, you're not living. Period.

There's a right way and a wrong way to do things.

And given the choice, most people will choose the wrong way to do it. But it's the people who care passionately to do it right who transform and elevate our lives. Most of these people go unnoticed or are under appreciated. The rooster may draw attention, but it's the hen that lays the egg.

People will embrace lies if it means shielding themselves from inconvenient truths

While lies may be dangerous, ignoring the consequences of truth can be downright fatal.

Certainty is a fool's trait

The more you know, the more you realize you don't know much and that there is so much more to learn. The cumulative knowledge of all we have learned about everything in all of human history doesn't even break past the smudge on the cover of the book of the universe. Stop. Listen. Think. And think again. Be humble.

Freedom is not free

It comes at a cost. We make individual and collective sacrifices so we can be free. Liberty is not without limits. One's idea of freedom does not override other people's right to live.

The biggest crisis we face is a crisis of indifference.

A whole universe exists outside of yourself. Don't be an a$$. Wear a mask.

Tomorrow is here

Lastly, crises especially ones that have so vastly and so profoundly affect us on a global scale are bound to permanently change the way we perceive the world and the way we place value on what we do, how we live, and what matters. People who don't see change coming will soon become relics of history that will be discarded and/or forgotten. The future may have yet to reveal itself; but trust me it's already here.

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