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Pathogens in the Air, Protesters in the Street, Prospects for Change Within and Without

An odd amalgam of tragedies is conspiring to make this an unprecedented time — a strange mixture of calamity and hope that could render 2020 a monumental convergence of tipping points. They could be good or bad or some of both, depending on how things play out.

And what a multiple-whammy of things: from the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic to the trajectory of the economic crisis it’s caused, to the recognition of the disproportionate toll the virus has taken on black people, physically, mentally and financially.

And, pouring gas on the flames of this already once-in-a-century societal disruption comes the explosive coincidental tragedy of the videotaped and nationally publicized police murder of George Floyd, an African American whose name, added to the long list of black people killed at the hands of law enforcement in recent months and years, appears to be the straw that may just break the back of the intractable blue wall.

The case appears to have swept like a tidal wave over much of the remaining white resistance to the literal and social meaning of the words “Black Lives Matter.” The Mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, has even had the phrase painted as a pavement mural in a street in front of the White House. Need more evidence? When an iconic American corporate consumer brand like McDonald’s takes out an ad listing the names of black victims of police murder, from Trayvon Martin to George Floyd, you know the times are changing.

They appear to be changing not just here in America, but in many places throughout the world where people previously looked on at breakouts of racial unrest in the U.S. from a safe distance. But newspapers in the past couple of days have reported on supportive words by leaders and marches in solidarity with American protesters by citizens in Germany, France, and the U.K, among other countries.

What Will Happen When the Curfew Lifts and the Lock-down Loosens?
Moments ago, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio announced an end to the 8 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew that he had put in place on June 1 — the first curfew imposed in New York in 75 years. And tomorrow, the first phase of the loosening of pandemic lock-down restrictions will begin in New York City.

For me, reasons for hope abound. Some of them may be premature, for things could surely get worse — if there’s another spike in coronavirus cases and deaths in the aftermath of the breaching of social distancing rules during the marches, or if expectations of justice for the cops involved in the George Floyd murder are not satisfied, just as previous expectations for gun safety legislation failed to materialize after multiple mass shootings at schools that made reform seem inevitable.

Nevertheless, I envision enduring improvements stemming from the events of these past few turbulent, historic months — changes of things far beyond my immediate life and control, as well as things within my own mind and influence. Here are some of them:

  • Post-Pandemic Public Health: Declines in reported cases and deaths from the novel coronavirus have clearly occurred as a result of face-mask wearing and public distancing. Like pandemics of the past, this one, damaging as it’s been, will pass, and we’ll be better prepared in the future both to respond to them and to carry on with greater equilibrium when they arise. Also, improvements in healthcare insurance will come, in some form that will be better than what we have today.
  • Post-George Floyd Police Reform: Mayors and governors won’t be able to afford to look the other way this time, and hopefully a new presidential administration will make it a national priority. No more chokeholds and excessive use of force, better training, demilitarization of law enforcement practices, and more and better community policing programs.
  • Improvements in Work Policies and Pay: Work-from-home policies have already pleasantly surprised employers, convincing them that people can be productive without being tied to their desks at the office and forced to be present within a restrictive set of hours. Employees will be freer and have the flexibility to better manage their lives and their work, companies will save on commercial space, and everyone will win. Hopefully, pay will increase so that people who have jobs, in general, can live decent lives, and people whom the pandemic has distinguished as “essential” will be compensated accordingly.
  • Improvements in Our Relationships with Family, Friends, and Neighbors: After working abroad as an ex-pat for 16 years and returning to New York in 2017, it took me a while to re-establish my connections with family and friends in the U.S. And just when my wife and I were beginning to truly enjoy the re-connection — going to meals and shows with other couples, having relatives stay with us for the weekend — along came the coronavirus and shelter-in-place rules. Overcoming those enforced separations through emails, phone calls and Zoom get-togethers have helped us maintain the lost ground we’d finally begun to make up since our return and even strengthened the bonds.
  • Moreover, my wife and I, who marked the 31st anniversary of our first date during the lock-down, have never in all those years spent so much time with one another — being practically joined at the hip like pandemic twins for the past few months. It’s made us closer than ever, and it’s been conducive to conversations at home and on walks to parks and grocery stores that we’ll long treasure.
  • Another very noticeable and welcome byproduct of the pandemic and street protests is the sense of community that has permeated our building and neighborhood. On our walks to the grocery stores and essential businesses that we frequent, the passers-by almost all wear face masks and keep their distance, and the shop keepers, some of whom have suffered from robberies and looting, demonstrate courtesy and give special attention and care to the regulars, whom they regard as allies weathering this situation with them.
  • Improvements in Our Relationships with Money and Material Possessions: New York’s streets are lined with stores whose long tentacles seem to reach out onto the sidewalks to pull you in to buy stuff you don’t need. Before you know it your closets have too many clothes, your shelves have too many books, even your utility spaces have more batteries, duct tape, and detergent bottles than you’re likely to use in the foreseeable future. Yes. That’s my fault. Guilty as charged. But the pandemic has made me realize how well I can do for extended periods without buying anything but food and necessities. I’ve used the time to collect and jettison nonessential items and I feel amazingly free and clear of distracting clutter. And there’s suddenly more money in our savings account.
  • Improvements in Our Relationship with Time: When I worked at a pharmaceutical company that developed and marketed a big portfolio of cancer drugs, I heard a patient who’d recovered from multiple malignant brain tumors say, “Time is our most important resource. After getting sick and getting well, you don’t want to waste your time. The lesson is, you don’t have control over ANYTHING — except the way you spend your time.”

Witnessing the simultaneous deaths of over a hundred thousand fellow Americans who died of the coronavirus, and a long list of African Americans who died in an instant at the merciless hands of police is a wake-up call to all of us, especially, but not only, black people. None of us know when our time will be abruptly taken away, and we have to start living like we understand that, because it’s a fact.

The Chinese have a proverb that goes: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” If these last few months make us start living like our time is what matters most and causes us to start living with decency, purpose, humanity, and kindness, then the great converging calamities of 2020 will have been worth the cost.

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Martin D. Hirsch
Martin D. Hirsch
Martin Hirsch started building his own communications consulting practice in 2017 after a career spanning almost 35 years with one of the world’s leading international healthcare groups. He’s led internal and external corporate communications, brand and reputation management, and crisis and issue management. Working in both the United States and Europe, he has advised multiple CEOs and collaborated with colleagues all over the world. Martin’s strengths include executive consulting, strategic message development, content marketing, storytelling, communications training, public speaking, mentoring talent, and inspiring organizations to advance beyond their limitations.Lately he’s been helping clients by writing keynote speeches for top executives, developing strategies for pitching new business and explaining complex issues, ranging from how to apply new digital health tools in the pharmaceuticals industry to making sense of the rapid and complex changes challenging employees to maintain their equilibrium at major corporations. Martin also works as a faculty adviser at the New York University School of Professional Studies, helping graduate students with their Capstone Papers. His speaking engagements have included presentations at the IABC World Conference, the European Association of Communications Directors Summit, the Corporate Communications International Leaders Forum, the European Commission Communications Directorate and the Rotterdam School of Business Reputation Forum Netherlands. More recently, he was a panelist at the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association conference on expat issues held at Pfizer headquarters in New York. Martin’s writing, including essays, letters and poems, has appeared in newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and Europe. You can read his blog on MUSE-WORTHY, here on BIZCATALYST 360°. He received the American Association of Journalists and Authors 2018 Writing Award for Best Personal Story Blog.

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4 CONVERSATIONS

  1. I don’t want to limit myself to talking above all about a country, also because I still want to believe that the speech can only be global.
    What world will it be after the coronavirus? I believe that if we don’t start programming it now, we risk a lot, as history teaches us. A new leadership is needed, and a series of priorities must be given immediately: from the fight against poverty to welfare reform, to the weight to be given to science and education. “Social distancing” immediately reached the top floors: national governments are increasingly distant from each other. In more moderate forms, the shortage of solidarity prevails, even among Europeans; in the most radical forms, there is aggression, as between the United States and China. If this is the pattern on which the future of the world after the virus will cut out, bad times will come.
    It is not said, however, that it must be this way, or at least not entirely: the greatest crises come out sooner or later in a positive way, it has always happened. The problem is when, after how long and after how much suffering.
    And this depends on the choices that the countries will make and that they must already make now. Because the pandemic triggers the crisis but it is political decisions, and in the case of Sars-CoV-2 also geopolitical ones, that determine what will come. There is no sanitary or environmental determinism.
    In the new concert of Nations, where each one points the finger at his neighbor or rival, the greatest danger comes from the fact that we are without leadership. In short, we risk remaining with a world without a leading country, with the consequent breakdown of globalization and the web of economic, technological, scientific, cultural and travel relationships that had enveloped the world in past decades. The victory, at that point, of social distancing.
    Unless new leaderships capable of tackling issues such as the fight against poverty and inequalities are born, western welfare systems (outdated, will probably have to be reviewed because the already high debts of States will be even higher after the crisis). Health systems will have to be strengthened by already seeing which models are best able to respond to the emergency. The relationship with nature and the quality of cities will play an ever greater role in the interest of citizens. Science and education will rise on the scale of social values. People, as a century ago, will want freedom not only in cafes but also in culture and the arts, to erase fear and sadness.
    Nothing good will come automatically though. Everyone, now, we tell ourselves that nothing will be as before. But if we let things go, the changes will be the continuation for the worse of the tendencies towards closure and confrontation we see today. It will take ideas and a leadership capable of creating new balances in the world, because violent triumphs in disorder and poverty thrives.

  2. Thanks, Martin.
    I’d prefer not to use this platform for politics. Let’s leave vitriol to Twitter, okay?
    From a social, non-political, non-dogmatic perspective, this shift in our world provides a unique opportunity to assess our own crapola and leave behind some outmoded attitudes and behaviors, make room for a little more sanity, empathy, and community. Not by party, not by race, not by gender, but by . . . wait for it . . . our shared humanity.
    Be good. And well.
    Mac

  3. Fantastic article Martin.
    Did the police departments say there were going to de-militarize? I only read they were going to stop ‘chokehold’ and partners were encouraged to speak up and interfere with abuse…
    Interesting how this virus has made people realize so much, missing in their lives.
    thank you

  4. Martin, I hope you are well and safe. I for one hope the new President of The United States will be the current President of The United States. This has been one of if not the worst years many of us can remember. Let’s hope the worst is over and done with. In terms of George Floyd, I am sickened to no end by his life ending in the manner that it did. Mayor De Blasio here in New York should be thrown out of office. You cannot cut funding to the police to give to some social service agency that he or his family will benefit from. This action will lead to a mass exodus of people from the city as lawlessness will prevail. How many police officers and firefighters risked their lives on 09/11 to save others. These heroes go to work every day not knowing if they will make it home safely at the end of their shift. The protestors are by and large frauds.

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