When we rush back into all the nooks and crannies

I went for a swim in the ocean today and have never seen so many fish. The beaches are closed so there was nobody there. Usually, when I get closer to a busy beach, I smell the sunblock in water. Now there’s nothing but the smell of the ocean and seaweed. You can only be on the beach if you are exercising. The water was choppy and frothy around me, and I realized it was fish. They were swimming right up to the beach and feeding. When I swam back, I was surrounded the whole way again by flashes of silver shoals and small jellyfish. It was a little eerie.

As we hibernate during this lockdown, the earth is exhaling. Nature abhors a vacuum. I wonder if we can learn to share more when the tide turns again and we rush back into all the nooks and crannies that have been filled by the animals and ocean.

Will hibernation change us? Will we take less and appreciate the free and priceless things in life?

aditya-chinchure-pN8QTxozLWA-unsplashPhoto by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

Why build one when you can have two at twice the price?

Bill Gates is proposing we build factories to manufacture the seven most promising vaccines, so they can all be tested in parallel.

“A few billion in this situation, where there are trillions of dollars being lost economically, it is worth it… we can save months because every month counts.”

I agree with Gates. I also think that the construction needs to be 100% subsidized by the US government to eliminate the risk for private companies.

The approach reminds me of a quote from the film Contact starring Jodie Foster. In the film, the world had put a GoFundMe type campaign together to finance the construction of a machine that would make contact with extraterrestrial life. When the machine was tested, a religious fanatic destroyed the machine, and all hope was lost. But then S. R. Hadden, a billionaire industrialist who was dying of cancer and was now in residence on the Mir space station, revealed that his company had secretly made a second machine in Japan.

Here Hadden’s quote that reminds me of Bill Gates’ proposal to build seven factories:

Hadden : First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price? Only, this one can be kept secret. Controlled by Americans, built by the Japanese subcontractors.

matt-benson-WsReOI_fuxA-unsplashPhoto by Matt Benson on Unsplash

No champagne rooms

I like this scene in Michael Clayton. A wealthy client of Michael Clayton’s law firm was involved in a hit and run. The client has fled the scene and is making excuses and starts concocting stories about how maybe the car was stolen, or that it was the jogger’s fault. As usual, the client wants to buy his way out of the problem like everything else in his life and not take responsibility or accountability for his mistake.

Here is Michael Clayton’s response:

“Cops like hit-and-runs. They work ’em hard, they clear ’em fast. Right now there’s a BCI unit picking paint chips off a guard rail. Tomorrow they’re gonna be looking for the owner of a custom painted, hand-rubbed Jaguar XJ12. The guy you hit? If he got a look at the plates, it won’t even take that long. There’s no play here. There’s no angle, there’s no champagne room. I’m not a miracle worker, I’m a janitor. The math on this is simple; the smaller the mess, the easier it is for me to clean up.”

We have become a transactional society:

  • Want to skip the long lines at the airport? Just pay extra for a shorter line pre-approved line, or better yet, take a private jet.
  • Want better healthcare? Pay for a Cadillac healthcare plan, a private room at the hospital, and a concierge doctor service.
  • Want to skip the traffic to JFK out of Manhattan? Take a helicopter!
  • Want to get your kids into an ivy league university? Make a donation and get them to the top of the list.
  • Want your permits approved for another renovation on your house?  Hold a fundraiser for your longer representative.

The world is going to learn about Michael Clayton when it comes to COVID-19. There’s no angle, there’s no champagne room. It is not about an interest rate cut, printing money, boosting the stock market, better messaging, or political ratings.

The math is simple: Stay home, flatten the curve, dig in for the long game, and wait it out. The smaller the mess, the easier it is for all of us to clean up.

klara-kulikova-JchmMd6R4es-unsplashPhoto by Klara Kulikova on Unsplash

Cocky and confident before the fall

I visited India a couple of years ago. Before I left, a couple of my friends told me that it was a matter of “when” and not “if” I would get the dreaded Delhi Belly.

I was given all the top tips:

  • Don’t put ice in your water.
  • Don’t eat the ice cream.
  • Only eat at the hotels.
  • Don’t buy bottled water from street vendors because it’s probably old water.
  • Don’t drink the milky tea from the big metal urns.
  • Don’t eat the street food,
  • Don’t eat the food on any of the train services.
  • Only eat vegetarian food.

I arrived in India full of vigilance and followed all the rules. It was no fun, and I felt like I was living in a bubble when everyone around me was on a different fun planet. About two weeks into my trip, I dropped my guard and got adventurous. It has been over 15 years now, but I still remember the restaurant. I ordered some kind of chicken dish off the menu, it tasted fine, but I remember thinking something seemed off. That night I was terribly sick and ended up feeling ill and bilious for the rest of my stay in India. I probably lost about 5kgs.

I can relate this story to the current shelter in place order. We have been in the lockdown for the last few weeks, and I can feel all of us starting to relax a bit and get cockier. Handwashing isn’t as vigilant, groups of two people are becoming groups of three, etc. We are craving contact and human connections, which means stepping out of the bubble.

The virus isn’t cocky, and it doesn’t drop its guard. It justs waits patiently. We beat this thing if we persist and don’t let up.

Hard choice, easy life. Easy choice, hard life. Let’s make the hard choices now and get through this.

maksim-larin-7iRdSsPbuEA-unsplashPhoto by Maksim Larin on Unsplash

Bodies in an ocean

It’s quiet out there these days. I’m still getting out for an ocean swim, but it’s a solo affair. The exercise keeps me sane and calm and is an excellent reason to leave the house for a break.

I like to survey the beach and the ocean before I swim. What’s the wind doing, can I find any blue bottles washed up on the beach, is there a strong rip current. It’s also reassuring to see other swimmers out. I couldn’t see any heads bobbing up and down behind the break, but it was gorgeous and bright out there, so I waded in and ducked under the first wave. I paused and trod water after I made it around the point. It was an excellent spot to get my bearing, adjust my goggles, and see who else was out there. I saw a swimmer heading towards me. He had goggles and cap on, and I recognized him as someone I’d seen during my early morning swims. He slowed down and stopped a couple of feet from me. Yes, there was even social distancing in the Pacific Ocean. We both floated for a bit, and then we smiled at each other. I asked him about his swim, and he gave me some advice about the current and the water temperature. He could see I was a bit reluctant to head into open water on an uncrowded day, so he gave me a few words of encouragement and then pulled away towards the beach. That final boost of motivation was all I needed. I tested my goggles, adjusted my cap, and swam away from the beach.

Two human bodies in a larger body of water connected for a second, and then we went on our way. It was energizing interaction in a moment where we aren’t quite sure about how to connect and talk to each other during our hibernation state.

jeremy-bishop-LZykn1xi4ek-unsplashPhoto by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Learning how to wing it

We are living through an event that nobody alive has dealt with before.

When I look for guidance from other people, I don’t ask them for advice, I ask them for shared experiences. How did they handle a similar set of circumstances, how did they feel, what was the outcome? Shared experience is powerful, because it’s not tailored advice, it’s a lesson I can learn from and then apply part of that lesson to my own problem or question.

There is no shared experience when it comes to a global pandemic. Nobody in the last 100 years has lived through a worldwide synchronized shock like this one. It’s different from a World War because even during World War One and World War Two economies functioned, global trade continued, and people weren’t locked up at home in every country. When an earthquake or hurricane occurs, we can solve the problem with a surge – a surge in relief workers, doctors, engineers, and money is the fix. This virus is the opposite; the more people that arrive to help, the higher the infection rate. It’s a deadly trap that uses sick people as bait to lure in the healthy. So what’s the playbook?

When seeking out guidance, remember the following:

  • Wealth doesn’t equate to intelligence and street smarts. In the last decade of easy money, there are a lot of people who think they are smart. Most of the time, they are confident and wrong. Unfortunately, we flock to overconfident talkers because we conflate overconfidence with competence. Identify these talkers and mute them. They have no shared experience and will lose their money and overconfidence as fast as they made it.
  • Being an expert in one field doesn’t make you an expert in all areas. I don’t want a brain surgeon fixing my toilet, and I don’t want a plumber fixing my brain. That said, listen to smart people gifted in pattern recognition. When Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates has something to say, then I shut up and listen.
  • Check-in now and then on the crazy folks. The crazies aren’t muzzled and sometimes speak truth to power. There are some diamonds in their stream of consciousness.
  • Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.
  • Think for yourself! Put on your oxygen mask before helping others, which is an essential air safety trip and a useful metaphor for everyday life. If you are taking care of yourself, spiritually, mentally, and physically, then you will be much better placed to listen and assist others.
  • Be okay changing your mind when new information crops up. Smart people change their minds all the time.
  • Keep it local. Be a good citizen and neighbor, listen to community advice and local officials.
  • It’s okay to say you don’t know.

angelina-litvin-K3uOmmlQmOo-unsplashPhoto by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash



Coffeehouses aren’t for coffee

“The Ottoman coffeehouses brought together citizens across society for educational, social, and political activity as well as general information exchange. Before their introduction, the home, the mosque, and the shop were the primary sites of interpersonal interaction. Eventually, though, there existed one coffeehouse for every six or seven commercial shops. And by the end of the nineteenth century, there were nearly 2,500 coffeehouses in Istanbul alone” – source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_coffeehouse

People don’t go to the gym to exercise

People don’t go to bookstores to buy a book

People don’t go to the beach to swim in the ocean

People don’t go to concerts to listen to music

People don’t run marathons to get fit

People don’t hang out in coffee shops to get caffeinated

People don’t go to church, mosque or synagogue to worship

People don’t go to meditation retreats to meditate

Humans are social animals. We congregate in places because we crave face to face interactions and bodily contact. The world has made a choice to step into the equivalent of a medically induced coma. We are like a plant that lies dormant in the winter, waiting for spring. Humans aren’t meant to be inactive and alone. We thrive and grow when we interact during the messiness of everyday living. This time shall pass, and then we’ll get back to who we are as a species.

davor-denkovski--qt_TCQxFrw-unsplashPhoto by Davor Denkovski on Unsplash