Seth Godin Covid-19 essay

Tim Lane / Penguin

For the first time, the only time, everyone on Earth was in the same boat at the same time.

Sure, there have been events that struck us all at once. Landing on the moon caused us all to gasp simultaneously. But this time was different. Regardless of class or age or nationality, the situation was right there, in front of our face. And it didn’t go away in a few news cycles.

But the responses, of course, were not the same.

Some profiteered and hoarded, cutting the line and seeking a profit, regardless of the cost to others. Some embraced panic while others sought to fan it. Some showed up asking for help while others decided to see who needed help.

And that’s the first lesson of our pandemic. While events might be evenly distributed, responses and reactions rarely are. We are able to choose to see possibility. We are able to lead. We’re able to see beyond a day or a week into the future.

Not simply a few of us. Any of us.

That choice wasn’t dictated by class or station or race. It was a new decision, made each day, by people who chose to care. Volunteer firemen who showed up for the next alarm. Parents who sat with a kid instead of parking them in front of a device. Doctors who quieted their fears in order to save others.

This leads to the second lesson, which is the choice that is in front of each of us. Just as the pandemic created the opportunity to lead and to contribute, the future is knocking on our doors asking us to make a new decision.

We learned the hard way that our fragile industrial ecosystem isn’t quite as resilient as we hoped. We discovered that we aren’t actually as insulated from nature (and each other) as we might have expected. And we learned (perhaps) that compared to the alternative, preparation is quite cheap.

There will be other flu pandemics, and each time, if history is a guide, we’ll be better at fighting them. But fighting a virus is very different than fighting the weather. The weather, the inexorable rise of the sea, is going to get harder and harder to ignore. The effects are unevenly distributed now, often exposing the most vulnerable, but as we saw with a global pandemic, we won’t be able to buy ourselves peace of mind for long.

The fork in the road is plain to see. Who will lead? Who will see possibility and opportunity and decide to show up now, when we can, to do something about tomorrow? And who will decide to push to go back to business as usual?

Just as air travel and cruise ships spread the virus, our industrial might has planted the seeds of our destruction. At the same time, the modern world has created a system with enough leverage to save itself.

While the system has leverage, the system is not resilient and the system doesn’t lead itself.

The best time to begin is now. Start where you are. Don’t wait for authority or a manual.

Change will come, as it always does, from us.

Each of us. If we care enough to lead.

Perspectives is a series of essays from Penguin authors offering their response to the Covid-19 crisis. A donation of £10,000 towards booksellers affected by Covid-19 has been made on behalf of the participants. Read more of the essays here.

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