When Systems Fail Us
It’s quiet in my house. Ordered to be on lock-down as we are, I don’t expect anyone to stop by for a visit. The sun is sending its rays to the garden where new life is sprouting. The garden has been on lock-down for the winter, but life was happening underground and the daffodils and tulip heads bursting into bloom attest to that. Frozen little bunches of green are expanding and growing as the weather warms. I even see a few seed heads sprouting: summer and a cycle of seed making isn’t far away. Our society’s lock-down is in sharp contrast with the budding spring forces.
When the world is busying itself with production, travel, and entertainment, few think about the power of being quiet, the restorative value of retreat. The pandemic has forced the world into retreat, and societies are given an opportunity to rest, review and gather forces for a new season. Will it be a new season? Or will we hurry back to a world as we knew it? A world of "more is better”, a world of "survival of the richest”, a world where "alternative facts” are truths?
Things will be different after all this is over, they say. Like with most retreats, insight and experience will fuel a different way of operating. More people will work from home, if they still have a job. Schools may change and add a home-school component to let children be home more. Families may value each other and wish for more time at home with one another, working and learning. More gardens may produce home-grown fare. Seed companies have experienced a run on seeds this spring! We may vote for a better prepared health-system, health coverage for all. There will be changes. But will this forced retreat change people?
Do people value the power of quiet, do they retain the new insights fostered by rest? I watch a young boy outside my window jumping up and down on a trampoline. He isn’t looking for rest and quiet!
Is it in our nature to be on the ‘go’ until we collapse with fatigue? Are the pygmies who ‘work’ only three days a week to gather food and create shelter an anomaly? Did people want the long factory work hours during the industrial revolution that drove up production, or was it what a few greedy industrialists saw as an opportunity for extravagant wealth? The story that everyone benefits from economic progress is in question. We have time to question. When is enough, enough?
Will the billionaires give up their privileged status and start sharing their wealth? I don’t think so, the ones who do have been doing it already. Will big pharma and insurance companies give up their profits and allow for universal health care? I doubt it. Will our government make them?
In 1835 while discussing the American political system(1), Alexis de Tocqueville said: “There are certain epochs in which the changes that take place in the social and political constitution of nations are so slow and imperceptible that [people] imagine they have reached a final state; and the human mind, believing itself to be firmly based upon sure foundations, does not extend its researches beyond a certain horizon.”
There will be a shift when we get through this pandemic. There will be a reset of how we do business, how we value each other. But unless this virus opens the eyes of evangelicals, corporations, power grabbers, the die-hard individualist hanging on to their constitutional rights, the ones who believe in a system of small government, every-man-for-himself and trust-in-god, the system that produced America will still be there. The people will vote against their own interests because the beliefs they adhere to will explain away the cause and mistakes made during the pandemic. They will go back to business as usual.
Except for a few. Millennials who have dropped out of the American dream to live a simpler life with their loved ones in a rural small town, will feel confirmed in their views that a slower life is a "good life”. The teachers, who have had a chance to experiment with novel forms of education, will not want to return to large classrooms with standard testing. Small business owners who’ve had to re-create their business to survive may become like craftsmen and shopkeepers of long ago, who wove the fabric of the communities they lived in. We can support them if we value our communities.
And then the children. What will they remember of this time? Will they have a long breath out - time to think, watch the flowers come into bloom, find snails and salamanders on neighborhood walks? Will they learn the pace of keeping house and playing together, and refuse to be shuttled from activity to activity?
I hope so. Because these children will be the adults who will change the system. A system that has failed them.
1. Democracy In America, from a new translation by Arthur Goldhammer, published by Library of America 2004