By now we are all aware of the importance of curbing our social instincts in order to avoid propagating the COVID-19 disease by thoughtlessly congregating with groups of people. This not easy as we all need the warmth and physical companionship that others give us by simply chatting face-to-face, sharing a meal, going to a show or even gossiping.
Unfortunately, these restrictions are even more challenging in a business environment.
A 43-year old entrepreneur stood in the middle of his factory floor, surrounded by hulking machinery, now quiet and cold. A couple of weeks ago he had stood in the same place, except that then everything had been throbbing noisily, spitting out non-essential products that hungry customers were clamouring for – and now may never want again.
One hundred and seven employees, each of whom he had personally hired and gotten to know almost as friends, were all at home wondering, as he did, when and if this would be over. That perfect world, where everyone had a job, could rely on getting a salary deposited in their bank account every two weeks, where one could plan next year’s vacation, where one could hope for advancement and growth, was all over.
The feeling of emptiness around him was only matched by what he felt in the pit of his stomach.
The General Manager of the Retirement Residence looked through his window at the receptionist sitting defensively at the front desk. She was trying to handle two distraught elderly ladies wanting to go out shopping. He knew each of the tenants in the 315 apartments in his building and knew how difficult it was for each person to suddenly have to change their routine. They were unable to do the things they had become accustomed to doing – having a meal with friends in the dining room instead of having meals left outside their apartment doors; playing Bingo every Friday; going shopping with a neighbour; meeting friends at the meditation or chair-yoga class, etc.
The GM felt like a jailer, forbidding people from congregating, asking them not to touch each other and begging them to stay in their lonely apartments for “just a few more weeks, for your own good”. How could he expect someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s to understand?
In the 1940s the world faced an enemy that was visible and identifiable. We saw the uniforms and the guns, heard survivors’ descriptions of what happened to them, were shocked by media accounts of fierce battles and saw the films of soldiers dying on beaches. The succeeding generations who did not personally experience World War Two were nevertheless able to have an image of the enemy and imagine how they would react if it all happened again today.
In comparison, today we face a lethal enemy that is invisible, silent, tasteless and deadly. We are living the equivalent of a horror movie, fighting against an army of invisible foes.
As a society we have long taken for granted everything we have. We have become accustomed to living well and largely ignoring what is happening around the world and refusing to take personal responsibility for our actions and our inaction.
This a wake-up call. This virus is reminding us that we cannot take health and nature for granted. What we do affects everybody around us. We are responsible for our world, our neighbours, our society and our planet.
So let’s all do our part: stay home, help out where possible, follow directions, call our friends and neighbours. This is a good time to take a deep breath, self-evaluate and be thankful for all that we have.
In the meantime, this is a time to remember what U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: “pessimism never won any battle.”
Ennio Vita-Finzi has worked on three Continents as a Trade Commissioner, a multinational executive, a successful entrepreneur and a college and university lecturer. [email protected].