When it is not over

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

When we think that it is ending but it is not over, hesitance more than excitement defines the gradual re-opening of business-as-usual. And it is but natural, I guess, to find hesitance in stepping into a world that has largely disappeared because its physical face deludes us into thinking it is still there.

There is no more business-as-usual. We cannot say that the old normal is gone and then try to return to business-as-usual. It is, at the very least, business but very unusual. Morphing into a new normal forces business to design a new usual. Today, it looks it will take more than a year to establish a new business-as-usual format.

Old support systems proved quite fragile and undependable when Covid-19 ravaged them. All economies of the world, as in all, contracted in the last three months, enough to cause an annual slowdown even with six months to go. That gives us an idea of how powerful the tsunami was that hit economic capacity and performance of nations. If we can appreciate that power and how it has permanently disrupted an old way of life, then we will be forced to re-examine the support systems that failed to do just that – support human societies.

I know it will be difficult to understand how to substantially change a support system, especially when the number one factor in that system is money, or the value of money to humanity. Money has no intrinsic value but our perception, and our behaving based on that perception, is that money is all-important. This is the classic lesson about perception and reality. There is no better example of how perception becomes reality that the value of money to humanity, money that is valued more than food, water, air, and even human life.

“Money has no intrinsic value but our perception, and our behaving based on that perception, is that money is all-important. This is the classic lesson about perception and reality.”

Covid-19 taught us that, in a lockdown environment, food is primordial, more important than money. And if there is food when people are hungry and money stands in the way (because the hungry people have no money to buy the food), people will destroy everything in the way of their getting to the food. This fact is nothing new. However, such a basic reality has had to give way to the perception that money is more valuable and can anyway buy all the elements we need to live.

Poverty has killed and destroyed more lives than any pandemic. Poverty has also proven to be more sustainable than any physical human ailment. Poverty is a consequence of a perception that has become more valuable than human life, than human dignity. In exchange for money, humanity gives up the well-being of most of its members, including the health of the planet itself.

It is inconceivable that the fundamental learning regarding the perception and value of money will happen soon. I am just pointing it out because Covid-19 is upsetting all of mankind and showing how fragile, or maybe even false, our assumed values had been and their utter inability to keep us stable, physically, emotionally, and intellectual with just the threat of one virus. There are many now who are claiming Covid-19 is all a hoax or a grand conspiracy, despite over eight million infections and climbing, despite over four hundred fifty thousand deaths and climbing, because it seems unfathomable how fear has gripped humanity. More than a hoax, I can only say it is the way we value what we value, the way we have chosen to live according to our established value systems.

“Poverty has killed and destroyed more lives than any pandemic. Poverty has also proven to be more sustainable than any physical human ailment. Poverty is a consequence of a perception that has become more valuable than human life, than human dignity.”

Because the value system remains intact, human societies will look for the same business-as-usual formats even as they say the old normal has gone. That is simply because value systems change very slowly, or at least much slower than their physical expressions. The mere fact, however, that many operational changes have been made signals that recent experiences and lessons are being chewed now. Learning deep lessons must be a sustained process but when it happens, radical changes will happen. Covid-19 for all its power has shaken the world but a few months of it will not force deep changes in values of society.

There is growing evidence, though, that vaccines are not immediately forthcoming, not will they carry guarantees of being effective for long. Any virus mutation can make vaccines ineffective if at all they work well and safely when they come on stream. A sustained pandemic is sure to trigger a major catharsis for humanity, a catharsis that will demand more than superficial changes in external lifestyles (though that would be radical in itself). Human value systems might have to be re-arranged dramatically. That is the equivalent of a global human revolution whose impact we cannot imagine today.

“The funny thing is that many will not know why they are angry and frustrated. They will point to others, to identifiable issues and concerns. They will realize only much later that the real battle is inside.”

Meanwhile, there will be an epic battle between what must be discarded and what must be adopted. That is the nature of great change. On the surface will be turbulence and turmoil. This tug-of-war will stretch and strain the limits of human patience and tolerance. The protest marches and riots in the United States and in many other major cities around the world will find their equivalent in most societies. The funny thing is that many will not know why they are angry and frustrated. They will point to others, to identifiable issues and concerns. They will realize only much later that the real battle is inside.

It is easy to speak of human value systems but next to impossible to change them as quickly as the world around us changes. Human value systems are not like technology and mere products of the mind, then physically manufactured by machines. Human value systems are the very drivers of imagination and creativity. What are most important to us will be where our productive and creative energies will move towards and express in the material like technology.

What, then, should be most important to us? It takes wisdom and vision to answer this simple question. I do not know if adult humanity has that today. I know, though, our children and grandchildren will.

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