Sense of unity brought by COVID won’t last – unless leaders become agents of idealism

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Photo by Lorie Shaull courtesy of Creative Commons

Our sense of connectedness has never been more pronounced.

In this crisis we find ourselves bound to our families, neighbourhoods and most everyone on the entire planet by both our animal instincts for survival and our human values of kindness and compassion. And although the virus and all its cruel consequences will pass, so too will this sense of connectedness — unless we choose to make something of it.

We will again retreat to our nations and other divisive identities and this shared human connectedness will diminish unless we choose to keep that spirit aflame. For those holding the reins of power, this is the crossroads: shape progress for people and the planet or have it shaped by the gathering storm of humanity. Enlightened by these past months, the pandemic presents us with these proposals:

Cooperation and kindness

Our experience with this virus illuminated the very best of humanity. Acts of selflessness, decency and caring — by corporations, institutions and individuals alike — affirmed the innate good in each of us and the deep sense of fulfillment it produces. Companies and social leaders can fan the flames of co-operation and kindness continually and will be rewarded and recognized as so many have been over these past months.

Unity requires truth

We witnessed countries able to mobilize quickly and cooperatively, principally through a common base of facts and requirements. When people prefer news sources motivated by anything other than the best obtainable version of the truth, we make it impossible to act in common purpose. Societies require an objective and independent fourth estate.

We are deeply social creatures and although nothing can replace time together in person, this period of isolation is forcing us to satisfy those social needs through creative use of technology. We can, however, invent social technologies that are far more constructive and rewarding than the selling of personal data alone.

Scientific collaboration

The scientific community seems to have a natural bias toward collaboration, but never is that more evident than during a crisis. If we unify our research resources, cancer will be no more, Mars will be visited and a future we cannot imagine today will come into view.

Patient capital

Coronavirus imposed on us an objective crisis, but the associated economic pain had much more to do with an unyielding mandate for short-term shareholder value. New structures, targets and incentives to encourage long-term investment will provide the stability people deserve, as well as the growth investors demand.
Paths to new energy

As we dramatically reduced commuting, air travel and fuel-based recreation, levels of pollution plummeted. These small steps represent significant momentum toward a better energy future.

Thoughtful consumers

We self-isolated and sheltered in place we discovered how little we truly need. And for some, needing less even made them happier. As our planet struggles with the environmental impact of our relentless consumerism, we can choose to moderate what we buy and consume.

Distance humanity from animal viruses

This pandemic, like most others, is the product of a pathogen crossing from another animal species into our own. It is within our power to alter that pattern but it means distancing ourselves from that sphere of animal risks. Broader adoption of more plant-based diets is the simplest solution available to most of us to mitigate those risks.

Time to appreciate oneself

As our time in isolation drags on, many are taking up a musical instrument or some other skill or interest. Time we spend appreciating our talents and gifts not only helps us feel good about ourselves, it liberates us to see the good in others.

Unifying human ideals

This virus brought us together. But once it inevitably subsides, so too will the unity it forged. In its place we can discover the ideals we all might share for a more civil, just and equal society. Organizations, institutions and social leaders can become agents of human idealism and help bring together people who would otherwise be divided.

COVID-19 adds itself to a growing list of socioeconomic and humanitarian crises, all of which are in some way systemic and, as a result, fail to yield to obvious or simple solutions. The way forward, therefore, must account for the seemingly disconnected factors these proposals aim to illuminate. The way forward is not the responsibility of any one organization; instead, coordinated coalitions of idealistic leaders will begin to unravel the winner-take-all knot that lies at the centre of our systemic issues.

Led by a pandemic, this mounting collection of crises adds a fierce urgency to our boundless resources and ingenuity. In these proposals, we are hoping to suggest some flags around which leaders and advisers might rally and bring about the change we all wish to see in the world.

Mike Robitaille and Usha Sthankiya are leaders in Conscientious Capitalism at Deloitte Canada.

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