When, in January, the first reports came in from China/Wuhan about a new virus, I certainly felt like everybody else, and it is useless to talk about it: Nobody had any idea of the scenario that would develop from it and that after only a few weeks our future would suddenly be irrevocably changed, seeming to become radically open and unpredictable.
Suddenly we had a new experience and had to get used to something that at least our generation was largely unfamiliar with and that we only knew about in part from reports about wars and refugees: Massive restrictions were established in our private life as well as in our professional environment. After 75 years of stability, we now suddenly experienced a never-consciously-perceived fragility and the brutal limitation on our personal power to act.
During this time, we have all tried to identify the core of the truth, i.e. facts and figures, in order to gain clarity. We have instead been, and continue to be, confronted with an unknown degree of insecurity and associated doubts and fears. We have not yet really succeeded in understanding the connections and the big picture.
The philosopher Svenja Flaßpöhler has described it like this, “It is as if a new reality is pushing itself over what we have long thought to be reality.” I think that is an interesting point of view.
But still… How much did we really know about this former reality, about what happened and will happen in our daily lives? Isn’t the impression of having everything under control and knowing what will happen in the near future a misconception? We lull ourselves into a supposed security and a sense of things being manageable. We make decisions in deceptive awareness of thinking that we have exactly the information that will make them successful. If we look closely, this proves to be self-deception, and Corona has been the traitor to this false truth.
Before Corona, it was the climate catastrophe that increasingly gained presence and more or less discreetly tried to steer our lives in a different direction; to this, we were not very emphatic and were still left with the possibility to choose even more production and consumption.
Our turbo speed and globalization have revealed climate change and today’s pandemic, both of which function as a plug that, when pulled, bring everything to a standstill. That means that the world we have created is capable of eliminating itself.
It signals to us the next level of escalation, as if an increase of the climate catastrophe, and forces us to accept that life will not go on as before.
Now the restrictions are gradually loosening, and we can observe attempts to make up for all that has apparently been missed in the last few months. At the same time, we realize that this is not possible. But neither has it ever been possible! Because time passed is irretrievable.
It is rather a matter of using the present time to abandon our established self-deception.
Who will use this moment for transformation instead of simply restoring the old vehicles of production and consumption?
The question is whether we are ready for this? Who will use this moment for transformation instead of simply restoring the old vehicles of production and consumption?
Let’s start with a detailed analysis:
Our ego-illusions, which functioned as our familiar thought patterns, have been lost because what we relied on has proven unreliable: The continuity of progress, in the sense of “tomorrow is like yesterday, only better,” was taken away by the Corona crisis. Our illusion of having everything under control if we only apply sufficient discipline, planning and control has also been taken.
Performance as a reliable indicator of success has also failed in the Corona pandemic, because despite considerable efforts, we have to report losses in many areas.
And last but not least, our illusion that we have power over of our own success has crumpled! We have underestimated chance, luck and favorable circumstances as protagonists of our success by far; we now know that the will to succeed is not enough.
As Max Frisch writes in Stiller: “Sooner or later everyone invents a story that he thinks is his life.” For most people, the pandemic has exposed this invention and destroyed the illusions for good. Instead, our disappointed world holds a variety of worries and fears in store. Of the disease corona, death (possibly associated with it), the various losses (in family and job), and all the things we cannot yet foresee and may still be facing.
Now it is time to overcome the fears that poison our thinking, to be able to look ahead and to find out what can instead give us support…and to identify what is really meaningful and creates sense in our lives.
Marcuse already criticized, in the mid-1950s, that defining the standard of living by cars and television sets was the definition of the performance principle itself, and that the standard of living should be calculated according to other criteria.
For us, this can now mean reducing material prosperity in order to increase personal freedom. Creativity and innovation must come first, not just in the abstract but in very concrete terms.
Ray Dalio calls the Corona crisis a “wonderful revolution” because it will bring us extreme progress in the fields of digitalization, data and human thinking.
If this progress has an impact on human thinking in particular, I believe it would indeed be an enormous gain.
We can and must now decide what we really need and what is a luxury, perhaps even formulate new definitions of these. We have the opportunity to lay the foundations for healthier working cultures. The issues of productivity and personal responsibility will be fundamental and can be discussed from new perspectives.
This vision inspires me. I am happy to accept such a challenge, one which gives us the space to set a new course in order to give a new dimension to the meaning of life and work. The hurdles that have to be overcome during the process are our learning path on which we can grow in an incomparable way.