With the COVID pandemic, an impassable gulf opened up between the world we knew and an overwhelming new reality. Responding adequately to this profound experience of discontinuity, of being severed from what came before, means asking a simple question.
What do you value?
In other words, what are the core principles that guide your behaviour, your hopes and dreams, your political actions, your efforts to learn and grow? Now that your habitual way of being is disrupted, what is your true north?
In situations where our knowledge and experiences no longer apply to our circumstances, we have to look deeper for direction. After all, values are immutable, non-negotiable. It may be that they are the only forces on this planet that are relatively invulnerable to disruption. Hence, they provide stability and direction when all other guidelines are thrown into a state of disarray.
Whether we want to or not, we are all currently engaged in a world-building project. It’s a grand experiment with life and death consequences. Severed from the old, we have no choice but to construct the new. In this COVID Economy, we are making the choices that will determine unspeakably important outcomes. Those outcomes include whether the planet will remain viable for human habitation. Whether future generations will be shackled by unmanageable debt. Whether opportunities to generate value will be equitably distributed.
Since the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher, we must examine most fundamental substrates of our motivation. We must identify what generates our enthusiasm for crafting a new world out of the fragments of what came before.
As a strategist working with the think tank New Commons in the mid-aughts, I grew quite familiar with the enthusiasm specific to “development experts.” Tasked with starting up projects in struggling communities on the American East Coast, they understandably loved talking about what they knew. Infrastructure. Local food. Urban design.
I’d always ask them a question: “What do you value?” It was almost always a difficult question to answer.
I’d say, “If all this money is put into good roads, will that satisfy you? Do you love roads?”
They’d say, “No, I just want this community to improve.”
“For my family!”
“Because I love them.”
No matter what the issue was, it always came down to love. It was at the heart of all that we did, or tried to do.
So, will our reorientation into this COVID Economy be guided by anything other than love? Should it? As you make your contribution to this new world, what is fueling you?