BY, PhD, MPH, AND , PhD
We survived! Now it’s time to thrive. But how? We need the right path and to create architectures within which we all can comfortably fit. Add a dose of prudence to not become sabotaged by our own perceptions.
The pandemic fallout has changed the way in which we view our lives and how we understand the world around us. We have lost our signifiers of normalcy.
- We have seen people stumble into the new world order and sink to the nadir of civilized behavior. When we rush to engage with each other, bedlam results. Some choose to overstep the bounds of civility while others are nearly agoraphobic at the prospect of socializing.
- Think of the craziness of air travel. Fights on the aircraft and total abandonment after being pent up so long! It’s as if we were all lottery winners and lost our collective moral compass.
- Stressors of health including insecurity, depression and finances are at all-time highs, and yet divorce rates have taken a dive, seemingly to further confuse us.
- Global poverty is on the rise for the first time since the 1998 Asian financial crisis.
These issues range across all sectors and have produced a once in a generation filtering of what matters to people. Typically, we have had a crisis in one sector at a time. This time it is everything that matters. How are we going to recalibrate the signposts of normalcy? It’s not just about getting back to normal; it’s just plain different out there!
Perhaps it is not an overstatement to say that we are entering a new evolutionary era that begs for the integration of people across their many factional identities. This may allow us to realize that we are living on the cusp of the great promise of reinvention as we try to escape the last gasps of an aging set of institutions, norms and structures that have led us to this point in time. These unique sets of stressors have led us to a kind of experiment in the realities in kinetic energy. We have all of the balls in the air at one time and can’t afford to ignore any of them. Consider what we have been through:
- Surviving the pandemic
- The vaccine wars
- The battles over our institutions of democracy
- The state of race relations
- Economic opportunity
- The concept of truth
- Healthcare and equity
- The role of technology and the digital divide
- Law and order
As we navigate these issues, each of which is contentious in its own right, we will be forced to entertain the realities of our intersectional lives. This moment in time is crying out for a way forward that focuses on reassembling our whole person identities. This is the very essence of what it means to be human.
Science has helped to advance our understanding of why we do what we do by combining across disciplines to share perspectives on how we create our unique worldviews. These whole person traits provide us with a means of understanding our differences in how we organize our worldviews while providing a means of reconciling them as we move forward. To successfully navigate these tumultuous times, we must address these issues.
- Are we committed to civility as a basic tenet of how to live with a broader culture of the many?
- How do we form meaningful connections with each other?
- How do we establish our worth to ourselves and to others?
If we can understand these traits and know how we differentiate ourselves related to them, we will be a long way toward accommodating our whole person selves. Unfortunately, we have arrived at this point in time, where each of these traits can serve as a fissure to drive us apart and mask the ultimate truth that all of our worldviews are imperfect. Science has helped us to know why we do what we do, but the jury is still out as to whether we will be able to heed the lessons urging us to willingly collaborate.
Opposites and divergent views need not be threatening. In fact, in most cases they are emotionally neutral when they reference low-intensity issues. However, there are other opposites which are emotionally charged and cause us great consternation. Nonetheless, just as we’ve learned to deal with hot and cold or thick and thin, we can learn to reconcile these divergent polar opposites amid high tensions and move on with our lives. This is a metric we have to live with.
These tensions with one’s worldviews are not new to us, nor is the task of reconciling them. Much like today, the ancient philosophers highlighted the importance of balance in life. The good life for the ancient Greeks required one to be a midpoint in all aspects of life, where placement was neither too much nor too little but just right. For Aristotle, health was the mean between self-indulgence and self-neglect. He also said that all knowledge must be built on a firm foundation or substrate.
Beyond that, in Western pre-Socratic thought there is the tension between views of a world that was constantly changing and that of fixed permanence. Hence the saying that you never step into the same river twice was challenged by those who argued about a never-changing, permanent and fixed view of the world. In 17th century Western philosophy, the battle or struggle between reason and sensation as being the key to knowledge ensued for more than a century until the 18th century, when Kant attempted to balance and reconcile them.
For centuries, Asian and Indian philosophy have been infused with seeking balance and harmony in life. For more than 5,000 years, Ayurveda has sought to help create a balance of body, mind and consciousness and how to define lifestyle changes to promote and sustain that balance. The Chinese balance of yin and yang depicts that value and holistic complement that balancing opposites can offer.
The fact that these same disagreements have been raging forever should give us a belief that they are substantive and significant to address now. Our advances in science and culture should allow us to move beyond arguing and toward collaboration. Perhaps we will see progress being made in the midst of lessons of why we do what we do.
Some of the most obvious areas of renewed balance come from the intersection of our work and personal lives. There are a few green sprouts that might be harbingers of future success as we move beyond the false choice of abandoning our complex selves in favor of narrowly defined criteria of success. It seems that in post-pandemic America, we are demanding a more complete accounting.
- Consider the example of large corporations that are looking to encourage employees to incorporate their benefits into their lifestyle so that the stressors in their lives will be lessened. This demands an acknowledgement by the company that these stressors exist and that it is to their benefit to try to ameliorate them. The employees are also given the opportunity to define what healthy living means to them and their loved ones and to act on those realizations. All of this is happening in what was generally believed as a giant drain on corporate overhead. Is this a reliable green sprout?
- The demand of the marketplace to be heard on the idea of hybrid workspaces is truly a reordering of market drivers. Countless studies of the risk of attrition rates skyrocketing and how to respond to alternative work relationships are tacit acknowledgements of the complexity of one’s work relationships. The number of companies that are specializing in delivering the infrastructure to support every version of hybrid work is also a leading indicator of the trend being here to stay. New data from a global survey of more than 9,000 knowledge workers shows how to step forward despite an uncertain future. The study indicates that “most workers prefer a hybrid office-home model. In fact, the vast majority of global knowledge workers (72%) prefer a hybrid arrangement that combines the home and the office. Workers are far less enthusiastic about going all in on one environment: Only 12% would prefer working from the office all the time, and 13% want to work from home full-time.”1 “A majority of workers don’t want to go back to five days in the office, but this preference is very strong among Black workers. The research found that 97% of Black people currently working remotely want a hybrid or full-time remote working model. Only 3% of Black workers want to return to full-time in-person work, compared to 21% of white workers in the United States.”2
- The number of companies establishing an office of diversity and inclusion in one form or another is also rising quickly. The diversity and training industry is evolving as well. The definition of diversity and inclusion has moved beyond just a counting game of numbers based on race and gender. The science is maturing to include concepts of cognitive diversity, intersectionality and delivered in many different modalities across the spectrum of organizations. “More than 1,600 CEOs have signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge. 40% of companies discussed diversity and inclusion in their Q2 2020 earnings calls vs. only 4% the same quarter a year prior. According to Gartner research, the number of HR leaders identifying DEI efforts as a top priority was 1.8 times higher in 2020 than 2019, as well as an almost 800% increase in job postings for dedicated diversity recruiters.”3
- Healthcare disparities have been laid bare in the pandemic and have been a source of much scrutiny. Financial hardship and opportunity disparities have been highlighted throughout the pandemic as well.
Through these issues we can confront the challenges and resultant opportunities before us. Choosing to see these green sprouts does not minimize our risk of failure. Rather we see a clear path forward using the actionable tools of science and the good will of each other to capitalize on these great omens for our future. Perhaps there is a coefficient of adversity we can positively leverage for the good of all. After all, we’ve survived; now… let’s thrive.