There can hardly be a best-selling novelist who could have conjured up the weirdly surreal Covid-19 world that has beset us since the latter part of March this year. Yet there is no doubt that the impressively adaptable nature of human beings is already in evidence as we acclimatise to our new environment – albeit with a little contortion and coercing on occasion.
I was asked by a colleague if I was bordering on lunacy launching a new business in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, with its associated impending economic carnage on the way.
My answer was, “Possibly …. but not probably!”
Covid-19 has certainly been expounded upon to such a degree in virtually every global publication channel, that it is suffice for me here to only comment on where I see the future.
Many publications of the past two months have projected, some with profound confidence and certainty, of a contraction of the SA economy of between 4.5% and 17% of GDP.
The epidemiologists appear less certain of the clinical outcomes of Covid-19 than the economists do, yet nonetheless the same enormous variances exist in their numerous predictions on the outcomes of Covid-19.
Even though it must be a near impossibility to proffer such predictions with any degree of certitude or accuracy, the human demand for certainty requires that we take a stab at the possible outcomes.
This is what leaves us with projections of such large variances which, in turn, actually leaves us with even more uncertainty.
And uncertainty is very disconcerting for society – and it is worth examining why.
Humans love certainty, or at least a feeling of certainty, to such an extent that we will feel an almost moral aggrievement if we cannot attain it. Living with uncertainty is as if we have been harmed or a possession has been stolen from us.
Conversely, when we are fortified with certainty it provides us the confidence to press ahead, unwitting of the unknown perils that may lay ahead. Even if it is a perceived certainty – blindly accepted – we will prefer that to an absolute uncertainty.
But an objective analysis of history informs us that our life journeys are frequently peppered with substantive unknowns – more so than we consciously realise or are willing to acknowledge.
It was the great British philosopher and logician, Bertrand Russell who said, “The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man but is nevertheless an intellectual vice”.
There have been a few great acknowledged leaders and philosophers in our history who have adopted the opposite path of certainty, embracing the unknown and hence moulding real world attributes to their advantage
Two thousand years ago, Roman philosopher Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his memoirs, “A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.”
The enigmatic stoic German philosopher of the 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche taught us of ‘amor fati’ – to love one’s fate!
But in most areas of life – for most of us, for most of the time – we do quite the opposite.
We violently protest against and lament the woes created by negative events – not accepting to any measure what role these events play in shaping our lives and building our characters. We spend inordinate time taking stock of our errors, regretting the unfortunate twists of fate, wishing our time away on those classic laments – “If only I had done this” or “If only I had chosen that”.
And further to such regret, traditional wisdom also guides us to be opponents of anything that might smack of resignation or fatalism. And collectively, such attitudes force us to overtly focus on errors, injustices or negative outcomes from our own or our collective past.
This subsequently clouds our minds to what opportunities and possibilities exist, let alone to appreciate that we still have much as a society to offer as well as to be grateful for.
I obviously do not want to be dismissive of the fact that there is already and going to be further hardship and suffering for the most vulnerable citizens in our society from this Covid-19 crisis.
But the weakest in our society can only be uplifted through the perseverance of the strong and the able, deploying their determination to overcome whatever may cross our paths.
During the 1930s, the prevailing political sentiment in Europe to supposedly avoid war was the appeasement of Adolf Hitler. This resulted in the disarmament of the major European powers, all the while Nazi Germany was secretly building for war.
Sir Winston Churchill described that decade as his ‘wilderness years’, as few were prepared to listen to his prophetic advice that you can only negotiate peace from a position of strength, not weakness.
The same applies to the attendance of the national crisis that currently afflicts us. It is best to do so with a strength and conviction that will extract whatever possibilities exist within our future world, whatever form those may take!
So, whatever new world may transpire for the balance of 2020 and possibly well into 2021, I hope that we can do so together, embracing the new and the unknown to make our country better and stronger – and in so doing contribute to our economy to improve the lives of our all our fellow citizens.