What To Do With the Time That Is Given Us

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Gandalf, Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkein

Will we take the time – amidst the dread, the fear and the addiction to the latest news update – to reflect on what we might learn from the demand – both explicit and inherent – of the Covid-19 pandemic to change our habits? Because there will be an ‘afterwards’. Even if we don’t know what that ‘afterwards’ will look like or what the future holds the current pandemic will change our landscape forever.

Being forced to stop is a chastening experience. The Virus is chastening – it obeys no mighty power, no politics or borders, no man-made rules of timing and etiquette. It is humbling to retreat to our homes (those of us who have them), to quit all the distractions out there and be forced to reflect on ‘what now?’. And I am neither unaware nor immune to the tendency to fill the gaps with online meetings and movie binges.

The big risk is that we run headlong back to the past: the urge to go back to life as usual is so strong in us. Because we are creatures of habit, we prefer safety over risk, and our love of what we know is greater than our curiosity for the new.

Or perhaps not. Luckily we humans, like the other apes, are endowed with unquenchable curiosity. We want to explore, pick apart, examine, analyse, figure out how things work, marvel at the new, know, understand and make meaning from all this raw data.

It seems to me that the three biggest and most misguided elements of our current lifestyle that need to be put on the table for dissection and remake are:

consumption and the whole market economy based on our dysfunctional consumer habits;

speed and our Alpha-Anglo-American addiction to fast is better; the quick draw and the adrenalin hit;

travel and our assumed entitlement to go wherever we want, whenever, no matter the cost or damage; that somewhere else is better than here.

Yes, we are living through scary times and they will get more fearsome as the pandemic escalates and spreads exponentially. Yes, there is sickness, loneliness, fear, suffering and deaths. Yes, there is panic buying, selfishness, ignorance, foolhardiness and denial. But that does not mean we need to simply watch, wait and complain!

Can we use the gift of the space and time that has opened up for so many of us (and I do see it as a gift) to explore the new mindset needed to knit together these three themes into new ways of being on Earth that could be healthier, profitable in a real sense for more than a privileged few, and enable us to address the even greater challenge of healing a wounded planet and regenerating its forces for a future fit for all?

What are the new habits we might wish to cultivate – in readiness for a new afterwards?

How about moving from…to

Consumption to Care – which in its wider interpretation involves courage and creativity; getting clear on which values serve the ‘good’ beyond self, the bigger picture beyond our own desires

Speed to Slow – which means ramping up our capacity to listen, to look, to see, and reflect, to do the inner work that builds a vibrant resilience

Travel to Time Together – which means cultivating local communities and a work-home continuum that has the adaptability needed for our more fluid times

We have these habits already within us – witness the kindnesses and courage all around as people ask: what can I do, how can I help? It’s a scaling up and a systemic challenge. If we can systemically make and demand these three mindset shifts big time and foster the new personal and structural habits they engender that would be a good start in fashioning a better ‘afterwards’ – and, for that matter, a better ‘now’.