Two pieces of writing have resonated with me over the last few days. One was composed in quite a different time, and the other was penned a few days ago by an SCS Alumna. Both provide important perspective about the imperatives of learning from times of peril.
There are many troubling things that are front of mind right now: COVID-19 itself and the devastating impact it is having on so many people; the current and future state of the economy; the loss of physical human connection and the impact that has on people’s mental health.
How we react and respond is a choice.
I am rereading a wonderful, thought-provoking book right now by philosopher and novelist Dr. Lin Yutang entitled The Importance of Living. Interestingly, this book was written in 1937 and was Yutang’s reflective solution to the overly fast-paced lifestyle then. Despite it now being over 80 years old, the book is just as poignant now as I suspect it was then.
Yutang states from the outset that he is presenting his own personal point of view, but that he “cannot help feeling that this view of life is essentially true and since we are alike under the skin, what touches the human heart in one country touches all.”
He speaks about the importance of a sense of humour and a playful attitude, in a way that felt somewhat uncomfortable to read today. There is little that seems playful right now and yet upon reflection, I realized many are using humour as a way to assist us in coping.
With prescience I hope, Yutang writes, “I do not think that any civilization can be called complete until it has progressed from sophistication to unsophistication, and made a conscious return to simplicity of thinking and living…for we must first weep before we can laugh. Out of sadness comes the awakening and out of the awakening comes the laughter of the philosopher, with kindliness and tolerance to boot.”
Ultimately, I hope we find the laughter, kindliness and tolerance so needed.
Back to our current reality, I was struck by a second piece of writing that appeared recently in The Globe and Mail: Making History: How a Pandemic Took The World By Surprise, by Margaret MacMillan. MacMillan, who is a distinguished historian, author, and SCS Alumna, offers insights into society, the importance of community, good government and leadership that reads as a cautionary tale.
MacMillan suggests that perhaps we have been understandably complacent. “For much of the period since the Second World War, the developed world has enjoyed prosperity and stability.” And she reminds us that “it is not too soon to start asking what we have learned.”
MacMillan argues that we must – not just politicians and leaders, but all citizens – take responsibility for learning lessons to become a better society. She ends her piece by reminding us all that, “While we will all have to keep washing our hands, let’s only do so in a literal sense. If we are to build a better future, we, leaders and publics both, must not…abdicate all responsibility.”
The key takeaway for me from both Yutang and MacMillan, despite the different times in which they write, is that there is an opportunity for an ‘awakening’ if we are able to learn from times of instability.