“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, author, Man’s Search for Meaning
The Covid 19 pandemic has brought humanity to a crossroads unlike anything we have ever confronted in human history. Suddenly hit by this crisis, choosing our response has never been more crucial or more global in scope. We urgently need the collective discernment to figure out, together, how we will survive and even thrive in the future, for the sake of ourselves, our children, our communities and our planet. In the wake of this unknown virus, nothing will remain the same. The phrase, “a new normal,” is no longer often heard, because we can’t rely on one.
When we are overwhelmed with confusion and uncertainty, the virtue of discernment sheds light on the way forward. It guides us to reframe the situation in a broader context, bringing fresh clarity. Discernment is an essential aspect of the resilience of the human spirit to overcome obstacles and rebound from adversity.
We are now forced to weigh seeming opposites, such as maintaining safe isolation versus restarting economies, resuming industry versus maintaining clear skies and waters, and above all, to weigh the loss of lives versus the loss of livelihoods. Doctors and nurses without sufficient personal protective equipment are succumbing to the virus, and vulnerable elders and communities are most at risk. A Latino waiter in New York, already unable to feed his five children, may never get his job back, even when the restaurant where he has worked for ten years reopens, with half the tables and half the staff. This is a time for thinking way outside the box and calling on wisdom as never before, both personally and as a human community.
However, this is not merely a global emergency. Potentially, it is an emergence into a more whole and compassionate world. It isn’t enough to stuff money in the hole of the collapsing dike. We have an opportunity to rethink everything from a whole new perspective. Clear vision is essential now, to plan for an unknown path to a better future for the people of the world and the planet itself.
Many are now pondering basic questions such as what it means to be human -- not only what to do, but how to be, and how to build new lives reflecting our deepest values. Technology now affords us the opportunity to connect throughout the world as never before to meet everyone’s needs. Virtues offer guiding principles based on the wisdom of the ages for our personal and planetary reset.
Bringing these virtues to life requires wisdom and commitment. The virtue of Discernment gives us three tools to illuminate our options at this crossroads, both personally and as a global community:
A good question is at the heart of discovery. What questions do we need to ask as we seek a broader consensus for building a new future? What will a global reset look like and how will we get there? How do we balance short term emergency solutions and emerging dreams for a new reality in our personal and collective lives? How do we create a table big enough for everyone who needs to be seated? What do we really want?
Asking the right questions requires that we listen with patience, perceptiveness, and openness to a wide diversity of human needs and viewpoints. Contention is terribly wasteful now. We need to hear one another's cries for help and ideas for change. We need to regain the ability to speak together with civility and to truly consult in a full, frank and tactful manner. There is great value in listening to a variety of perspectives, which can give rise to a whole new view.
We also need to listen to those who serve as climate guardians. This is truly an unprecedented opening for our failing natural world to become whole again.
In seeking clarity, we need to pause, take a breath, and reflect on what we value and what we want, tapping into a deep well of intuitive wisdom. Some have found that working remotely brings them closer to their families and would actually prefer this option in future. Some have found that a more intense focus on connecting with loved ones has revived forgiveness and intimacy. Some individuals and organizations have risen to new levels of creativity and nimble resilience, such as beer manufacturers converting to hand sanitizer production.
In this great Teachable Moment, we need to glean the best practices of the past in rebounding from calamity. One example is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s innovative response to the Great Depression -- The New Deal, which brought immediate relief and long term prosperity to Americans. It reemployed eight million people on public work projects, gave youth a path of service, and permanently reformed the economy.
Together, we can adjust what has become an interdependent global economy to reflect respect, dignity and trustworthiness. Just as humanity has emerged from other crossroads in history with more adaptive and advanced ways of living, we are called to do the same.
“Everywhere I hear the same refrain: We’re standing at a portal to the future; we’re not going back to how it used to be.”
David Brooks, New York Times columnist
Call to Action: Use the tools of discernment for yourself.
Authors: Linda Kavelin-Popov and David Feldman
Linda Kavelin-Popov is a psychotherapist and hospice spiritual care doula. She is co-founder of The Virtues Project, endorsed by The Dalai Lama and the United Nations. She has authored seven books, translated into several languages. She was named a “Cultural Creative” by Time Magazine.
Dave Feldman is an entrepreneur, community builder, thought leader and international speaker. He co-founded several social entrepreneurial ventures including: Virtues Matter, developer of the Virtues Cards app; Livability Project, a sustainability consultancy; and Media4Green, an environmental content producer.