The pandemic has been a crash course in navigating complexity, undertaken in an age of already-compounding complexity. It was messy and imperfect, raucous, stressful, and heartbreaking, but we have, so far, muddled through, and have mostly figured it out despite grievous losses, and with the assistance of human ingenuity and advanced technologies.
We developed a world-changing vaccine and sent it into global distribution in less than 18 months. We stabilized global supply chains as the world ground to a halt, and managed to secure and distribute food, water, medical, and living supplies to almost everyone in the world who needed them.
We bent the curve. Then we bent it again, and again. We navigated messy social consent and boundaries within our peer groups, our schools, and our workplaces. This all took place amidst a dizzying range of subjective perceptions of risk, and in spite of often wildly differing views on the relative weight of independence and liberty versus social duty and public responsibility.
We used technology to stay connected, to help each other, and to test new ways of being together during times of great anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. Mental health issues persist among every demographic, including the young, and will linger for years, but were dampened significantly by our ability to mediate our social disconnection using communication technologies.
All of this has, against odds, made us stronger and more resilient, but at a cost that we can’t yet fully tabulate. As we emerge from trying times, there’s a need for hope, for optimism, for a sense that the future is going to be an improvement on the past.
We were sorely alienated from one another before the pandemic, but oddly and counterintuitively, through the social distance, we seem to be learning to work together again.
This is the path to a better normal. We live in an age of accelerating complexity. No one person or institution has all the answers, and our greatest challenges are, and will remain, collective challenges. We must work together.
We need to merge the skills we’ve gained in the pandemic with the miraculous technologies we are now creating, to bend a host of global curves: from poverty and climate change to mental health and addiction, infrastructure, reversal of nature loss, war, disease, intolerance, illiberalism, and more.
We have a global opportunity to start a new story, right now — literally today. It should be a story about reconnecting to things that matter, and about fostering a spirit of mutuality in the face of our enormous shared challenges.
One thing the pandemic has hopefully taught us, is that we are all in this together. But also, that togetherness is not sameness, and that diversity of thought, opinion, feeling, perspective, and action is not a threat — it is a source of enormous and enduring strength. It is how we uncover and discover the truth, and how we rise to new collective challenges, and survive.
The challenges we face – whether ecological, economic, social, or otherwise – will be best faced when they are grounded in three things: a shared sense of common humanity, a celebration of the vast and often stark diversity of human thought, feeling, experience and perspective, and finally — in the power of human ingenuity and technology.
Isn’t this what it means to be human? It is to explore and express the limits of individual uniqueness and liberty as a single atomic particle amongst the whole, without ever losing touch with the wholeness that is our familial species, and our planetary home.
We have all the tools and technologies available to solve our problems, to create an abundant, healthy, global and even interplanetary civilization — for the first time ever.
This is where the next chapter of the human story should start — in a sense of shared purpose and humanity, with a deep respect for the power of human difference, and with a commitment to the careful application of problem-solving technologies.
What are we waiting for?