On the edge of a New Year, social media accounts have been bombarded with messages about how terrible 2020 has been and how we can’t get out of it fast enough. Of course, 2020 has posed some significant challenges; most notably, on the global stage, the Covid-19 pandemic. The challenges in the wealthier countries, where we have tended to make the most emotional drama out of it, pale into insignificance when compared to the those faced by the poorest. We’re not used to this level of vulnerability, uncertainty and threat. It has freaked us out and, perhaps in some ways, that’s a good thing.
My hope for 2021 is that this glimpse of vulnerability, of real fear and helplessness, will engender far greater empathy for those poorest people in the world who live with that anxiety every day. And not just empathy, but a greater resolve to do something tangible to bring about positive and sustainable change. I hope it will drive us re-evaluate our crazy consumerism that is pushing the world further into irreversible environmental disaster. I hope it will reveal, too, our fundamental interdependence; although reports of rich countries racing to buy-up Covid vaccines first fills me with near-despair.
Yet there have been, for me, silver linings in the midst of all this. I’ve been grateful to God for the opportunity to live with my parents all year, to support each other during the lockdown and to spend valuable, irreplaceable time with them. I’ve been grateful for free technology that has allowed me, and others, to do so much online that would otherwise have been impossible. I’ve been grateful for the chance, with others, to support the poor in the Philippines; an experience that has often brought at least as much richness and joy to my life as to theirs. What have been your silver linings in 2020?
Do you try to live and work in perpetual 'summer' mode?
One thing you notice living in a temperate climate is the changing of the seasons. In autumn and winter, we see nature dying back, retreating into hibernation. In spring and summer, we see it springing back into life again. It’s as if winter is resting and summer is thriving. It’s a similar rhythm to sleeping and waking. Down-times allow us to recharge so that we have the energy we need for the up-times. Try going without sleep for a night or two and you quickly realise how vital it is!
Confucius said wisely: ‘If the land is always filled with sunshine, it will soon turn to desert.’ These words resonate down through the ages and yet, in the 21 century, our technology (e.g. electricity, light, on-line) and culture (e.g. consumerism; competition; on-demand) are driving us incessantly towards continuous activity, constantly straining to achieve, to out-perform. Busy-ness is equated with value (if you don’t believe me – try telling your boss and peers at work that you’re not busy). No rest.
In order to sustain this lifestyle, we live on caffeine and all sorts of other stimuli to keep us going, running at peak performance. As a consequence, physical and mental health suffers and we feel caught in a perpetual rat race where only the fittest survive. Organisational KPIs drive us to lower costs and higher results, always with an anxious look over one shoulder to keep an eye on the global competition biting at our heels. Resources are getting scarce and the environment is at risk.
So here we are and it’s tempting to think, ‘We’re all doomed’ and to cry out in protest, ‘Stop the world, I want to get off!’ Or we can pause and reflect: What is driving our leadership and business beliefs and behaviour? What could the benefits be (e.g. energy, sustainability, effectiveness) of building autumn & winter periods into our organisational plans and cycles? What ecological principles can we draw on? What could that look like in practice? What are we willing to do to make it happen?
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