Published 3 years ago.
About a 3 minute read.
Image: Iqbal Nuril Anwar/Pixabay
Life presents us with opportunities to learn lessons every day; whether we choose to take the lessons to heart is up to us. 2020 has provided exceptional opportunities for learning by forcing us to face exceptionally difficult circumstances.
The first, most obvious challenge has been a massive global pandemic. But what
are the lessons?
First, of course, is the lesson the need to listen to the experts who warn
us about possibilities of threats. The most obvious example is climate change;
where scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades that the pathway we
are on will lead to catastrophic changes that will threaten millions of lives.
We need to understand the circumstances, as well as the forces, that inspire
denial. Watching millions of people refuse to engage in simple, preventative
measures (such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing) does not bode
well for the more difficult, and permanent, lifestyle changes that will be
required to solve the systemic problems we are facing as a species and society.
An extension of the need to understand and overcome denial is to understand and
address the pervasive misinformation that validates our opinions through
ever-increasing numbers of sources, and teach people (ourselves included) how to
discern uncomfortable facts from more easily accepted realities.
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As if those were not difficult enough, we need to appreciate that some people
will be asked to suffer more greatly than others — not only if we fail to meet
the challenges, but also in the implementation of the solutions. This cannot be
acceptable; neither for moral nor practical reasons. Those who are asked to
shoulder the burden will most likely be those who are least responsible for the
problems, and least able to afford (financially or personally) the necessary
sacrifices for the greater good. We will need to reduce the disparity of pain
and make accountability for making changes proportional with responsibility
for causing the problems. This will lead to some resentment, of course — such
as the position among many in the US that the cost burden for climate change
should not rest so heavily on this country, despite the fact that we are the
second-largest contributor to the emissions associated with climate change.
Another lesson from 2020 is that many of us can be just as productive and manage
our work/life balance without being required to report each day to a central
work location. Already, we are seeing “remote” listed as a location in some job
descriptions; and a growing number of companies are realizing that it is not in
their best interests (they can save money, and access a broader and more diverse
talent pool) to return to pre-pandemic work practices. This brings benefits,
but also challenges — as physical distance from a central office will not be a
of ‘the best person for the job,’ but competition for those jobs will not be
limited to those in proximity, either. This means that those without access to
high-speed internet connections will find themselves (again) disadvantaged from
those opportunities, threatening to leave some behind — just as those who
lost their factory jobs when manufacturing moved offshore (or to locations with
less expensive labor).
unrest in the
wake of the deaths of so many young, black men at the hands of our police have
made many (regardless of gender or racial identity) more than a little skeptical
(to say the least) of those in power and authority. Re-establishing trust will
require re-earning that moral authority through visible and systemic reforms.
In an era where promises — whether they are made by politicians, business
leaders or laypersons — seem to last no longer than it takes to make them,
follow-through will be necessary on even the smallest things to earn back
the public trust.
Lastly, the biggest lesson that we must learn from the last year is that we
cannot, through our desire to return to what has been “normal” and
as quickly as possible, allow ourselves to fall back into those same practices
(and ideas) that contributed to the situations we are now — finally —
Published Dec 11, 2020 1pm EST / 10am PST / 6pm GMT / 7pm CET
John Friedman is Managing Director - ESG & Sustainability at Grant Thornton LLP. Prior to that, he led Sustainability at WGL, and headed corporate responsibility communications for Sodexo Worldwide.