Crises always offer the opportunity for creative destruction, although emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic hardly feels creative, at least not yet. The science says go for it; that is, if you are fully vaccinated. Yet, as slow as we were to adopt responsible habits of self-protection—like mask wearing—I feel no sense of urgency to drop my security blanket of triple-layered nose to chin prophylaxis by UnderArmour. Taking it off feels like I am walking around with my fly unzipped. I am embracing my vaccinated freedoms with all the enthusiasm of a bear emerging from hibernation: ambling about in a slumber-induced stupor trying to decide if I am hungry or hungover; wary of leaving my den behind. (I captured the bear picture above a few days ago from just outside my front door.)
In the last big crisis that we faced—the Great Depression and World War II—Americans raced forth to get college degrees, have babies, and rebuild the world. Back then, science didn’t tell us to go for it, ABC’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet did. Bigger families, bigger cars, and bigger houses put the United States on the path to superpower status. We looked up at the moon and said, “Okay, we can do that.” And, drunk on red, white, and blue ambition, we did it, as the world looked on in awe. Awe is not the way the world, or even we Americans, view the United States today. Youthful national exuberance has given way to crotchety timidity; our swagger squandered in a cauldron of personal fears and social and political fragility. There is no staff of victory upon which to hoist our patriotism. We have the people, but there is no “We the people.”
Our new president has an enormous challenge, and while he is meeting it with what appears to be a proper mix of assertiveness and deliberation, the opposition remains poised—and unfortunately capable—of returning us to the Age of Deceit in 2022. The battle over what it means to be an American is clearly not yet decided. But that doesn’t mean we can’t forge a new and better life. It just means we must remain vigilant about what lurks in the blindspots where those reside who are determined to impose their twisted conception of a 1950s-styled retrotopia—where the only winners are Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s boys—are coiled with fangs drawn to toll the death knell of America’s liberal democracy.
We must get past our fears and get into the flow of creativity to assure a healthy transition to a new American identity and personal equanimity. The first step is recognizing the lessons of the pandemic—the things we did (even if we didn’t want to) that proved beneficial. We slowed down. We consumed less. We paid attention to family, friends, and neighbors. We realized that many of the things we thought were necessary—like flying across the country for a business meeting—weren’t necessary at all. Many of us came to realize just how much of our lives were being wasted staring at social media screens and Netflix trailers; that a walk in the woods filled our hearts better than Facebook friends. We learned to sacrifice, and while many sacrifices proved depressing, others have earned their permanence in our new lives.
I come from the generation that was taught that any effort less than 110% simply didn’t cut it. One of my lessons from the pandemic is that 80% is better. Maybe even less. Proceeding at the pace and intensity of 110% crowds out inputs and options that improve outcomes and reduce failures. Slowing down and opening up is a much more effective strategy. Further, it makes space for empathy and humility. Listening is more valuable than speaking. Hesitation is not necessarily a weakness. Like the fermata that brings aesthetic structure to music, pausing to think twice, or even three times, can yield spectacular benefits. It can turn noise into melody. Finally, it is a much healthier and more sustainable way to live.
What are your lessons? As we move from fear to flow, what can we retain of our sacrifices that still make sense as we emerge from our pandemic dens? Returning to normal should not mean going back to pre-pandemic behaviors and policies. A new identity and life must leave room to retain what we have learned. They may have been hard lessons, but lessons nonetheless. A new America and a new you are what creative destruction is all about. Summon the courage to honor your lessons. Seize the opportunity for a hard reboot. A better normal—a better life—can be ours.