“I walked the path of life and I have to say, you will face difficulties. But you have to have an open mind. Don’t be like a bull hitting his horns all over the walls of the room. Life isn’t just about what you do, it’s more about how you do it.” – Nai Nai from the movie, The Farewell
Less than 12 months and a few black swan events are all it takes to turn the whole world upside down. The fervor and pace of something totally out of our control are bafflingly scary. I’m a glutton for punishment. Every morning, I fire up the ol’ Reddit to see what new things will shock and amaze me. In unprecedented times, finding a suitable reaction is impossible. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said this: “We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply. We cannot resort to the usual tools in such unusual times.”
Historical data offers guidance, but rarely the exact solution. The changing variables that make-up the zeitgeist of popular culture and society are the very reason why it’s hard to fashion an exact plan of attack. In times of absolute calamity, it’s tough to stay positive. I’m sure we’ve all been forced to reflect. Our job security. Our health. Our peers and family. And our world. What will be left as we reemerge? All the stimuli I subject myself to have activated a never-ending, and frankly unwinnablec game of “guess what happens next.”
I sat down this month with a huge cloud of uncertainty and wondered whether I would subject all of you to yet another discussion around the inescapable. But my fascination with the topic extends beyond just the challenges and realities of today. It’s the impact of our decisions today and the outcomes of tomorrow. We’re at a crossroads for so many different societal institutions. How we govern, run businesses, prepare for crises and treat our neighbors in crisis… a new normal will emerge out of this. Coming out of this as both individuals and as a collective global society will be the most challenging moments many of us will have seen in our lifetime.
“Chinese people have a saying, when people get cancer they die. It’s not cancer that kills them, it’s the fear.” – Jian from The Farewell
Heads-up, this is somewhat of a spoiler from that film, but: following the terminal diagnosis of the protagonist’s grandma, the whole family debate on whether they should tell her. The belief is that ultimately the white lie of not telling maintains her spirits and allows her to live a normal and happy life full of vigor. This is a different approach to say, telling her grandma the morbid truth and letting her mentally succumb to imminent death. [END SPOILER]
I’m cautious in applying the plotline of a movie to such grave real-world scenarios. But sometimes, I have to catch myself from getting sucked into spirals of despair when anything and everything seems to be going wrong. To relegate ourselves to defeat is the proverbial death sentence that chips away at the sculpture of life, eventually rendering it meaningless.
I often teeter between the importance of our existence versus our largely inconsequential passage on earth. Our universe is massive and we’re but a small participant with a finite lifeline. But it’s perhaps this very limitation and the outstretched impact of our positive efforts that should become our focus and life missions. There’s often an expectation in which we need to know the answers right at this moment in time.
But in unprecedented times, moving forward with an understanding of where we want to go is what’s needed. The best we can do today is all we should ask for. Managing pain or discomfort doesn’t need to happen in isolation. Reach out to those around you and see how we go from here.