"See the opportunity in every difficulty."
Yin and yang. Oil and water. Crisis and opportunity. Blood on the streets.
These seemingly contradictory expressions or images have been buzzwords in conversations in certain sectors, mainly business, lately. Amid endless streams of news, insights and opinions from all kinds of people and groups on what lies ahead after 74 days of lockdown, we are just about to give in to embrace what is being bandied about as the new normal.
Indeed, in the face of this pandemic which has caused almost a million deaths, infected entire populations without regard for race, creed, religion or even status in life, and literally stopped the entire world on its tracks, thoughts of any saving grace or even silver linings have been thrown out the window.
Despite the gloom, optimism persists and hope springs eternal. As a friend of mine who operates a small business consulting firm who is hard pressed deciding what to do with his 15 or so employees he has been tirelessly advising his clients who are caught in the same predicament to see the bright side of this crisis no matter how frightening the environment has become. “I repeatedly tell them, Brod,” he told me over the phone yesterday, “that giving up at this point will not get them anywhere. It will only add more white hair and wrinkles to their foreheads.”
He then pointed to a recent article by Rahm Emanuel, former Chief of Staff of President Barack Obama and Chicago Mayor for nine years, in the Washington Post entitled “It’s Not Enough for Democrats to Oppose Hasty Reopening; We Should Offer a Plan for Rebuilding” which outlined a way out of the present pandemic for America and the world which his party mates should consider if they are to ever overwhelm President Trump’s “idiocy in dealing with COVID-19” and win in November.
In that article, Emanuel’s overarching theme was “Never Let a Crisis Go To Waste” – the same call to arms he mustered in 2008 in the midst of the global financial crisis to push through a number of laws and plans to get America back on its feet and let President Obama finish its term with some finesse. Well, we will see if they can pull themselves together and win the hearts of a troubled people and coast to victory in November.
Actually, long before Emanuel framed the Obama administration’s marching order during the 2008 recession, it was the UK’s wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, who used the expression “Never Let a Good Crisis Go To Waste” to summon the best out of the British people, beseeching them to hold on with “blood sweat and tears” as he pulled, together with his allies, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the USSR’s Josef Stalin, out of the dark days of German blitzkrieg to the light of victory and eventually, the formation of the United Nations.
Truly, this is the time as we get into easing the lockdown for all of us, not just business people, to scan the horizon for opportunities. This quarantine should give us the opportunity to make sense of what lies ahead as we literally drop the fears and baggage of the recent past to envision a more hopeful and better suited future. If before we could not push through a green agenda as the polluters of the world have all but taken over the “engines of growth,” as was being hammered into our collective heads, transitioning to a new normal could be the key for enlightenment. We can now push through with the ban on single- use plastic. Or rush the clean up of our waterways, public markets and places and re-engineer our solid waste and clean air programs. Or reclaim our remaining forest lands, stop the conversion of precious agricultural estates and expand our identified protected areas and fishing grounds. Or find ways to have better and more people friendly means of transport whether land, air or water.
The new normal can also trigger the more equitable use of our resources for the greater good. Should we quibble over having more lands converted into subdivisions and allocating these increasingly scare areas into productive agricultural estates? The choice should be very clear. Should we allow big businesses specially in those considered as sunset activities to gobble up funds allocated to restart the economy with the stimulus package being crafted by government in the guise of “jobs protection,” or should we now outline those we consider sunrise ones like health care services and manufacturing, E-technology, agricultural production, enhanced and modern mining practices and forest production.
Should we provide start-up funds for our inventors and entrepreneurs not just rely on waged employment for our burgeoning population? Should we curb non-essential imports and fast track the production of substitutes which we can actually do as we transition to a new normal?
Indeed, there a thousand and one things which we can all consider doing which we never even imagined working on or looking into in the heydays before this pandemic. We were moving fast forward with more condominiums, more malls, more pleasure places, more bacchanalian feats and some such undertakings. We had more eating places, imported goods and practices turning the Philippines into a First World country, splurging country before we could even get into middle income status or come out of the woodwork. Everything was sweet and dandy.
COVID-19 got us back to reality. It is not and should not be all self-indulgence and the fast buck. We can rise up to better and fairer times. We can gather our wits and energies to create and redirect our resources to conquer our worst fears, excesses and indulgences.
A famous sage once said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”