"We focus on the bridge, yet ignore the possibility that the river underneath is no longer where it used to be."
I am excerpting from an article written by an Indian motivational speaker who used to be an executive of multi-national companies like Unilever and Kimberly Clark. It is about a bridge on the River Choluteca, in Honduras, whose long-running ambassador and dean of the diplomatic corps in Taiwan just retired.
Prakesh Iyer describes an almost half a kilometer span built by a Japanese firm starting 1996 which the government of Honduras wanted to withstand extreme weather conditions. This Central American country is always visited by strong hurricanes.
The new bridge over the Rio de Choluteca was finally inaugurated in 1998, and then a few months later, Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras. 75 inches of rain fell in four days, the equivalent of normal six-month rainfall. Seven thousand lives were lost, and all the bridges in Honduras were destroyed, except one — the bridge over the river Choluteca.
But there was a problem. Though the bridge remained intact, the roads leading to and from it were rendered useless. But that was not the only problem.
The flooding forced the Choluteca River to change course, creating a new channel where the waters passed, no longer beneath the new bridge. It became a bridge over nothing; a bridge to nowhere.
There is a lesson that the Rio de Choluteca imparts, and it seems pretty relevant these days.
The world is changing, and in many ways that we never imagined. There is the COVID-19 pandemic which bedevils the whole world. And there are the unmistakable effects of climate change. The River Choluteca is a metaphor for what can happen to us — our careers, our businesses, our lifestyles, and the politics that oversees all these in every country. The whole world is changing; transformation is all around us, and all about our future choices, adapting to this.
In a country where every leader has promised change, only for people to realize later that things remain the same, Choluteca tells us we must adapt to change. Change comes into our lives, not because we or our leaders initiate it, but because God wills it. It is we who must adapt to change.
So think again before you resume your specialization based on what you believe is your expertise. That role, that expertise, may have become redundant or obsolete in a changed order.
The challenge before us, Prakesh Iyer tells us, is not to get focused on creating the best solution to a given problem, because the problem itself may have changed. What we considered to be needs may have vanished.
We focus on the bridge, yet ignore the possibility that the river underneath is no longer where it used to be.
In another article, Iyer states: “We live in interesting times. Challenging times. And it’s at times like these that leaderships get challenged. Leadership mettle gets tested.”
And quoting a sententiae attributed to the Syrian writer who became popular in Rome before the birth of Christ, Publilius Syrus, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”
Well, the sea will not be calm, whether referring to the seas around us, particularly our West Philippine Sea and “their” South China Sea, and even now as we write, troubles are clearly worsening. Neither will there be a calm in the years to come, whether in our economy, in our society, in our polity. What many refer to as the “new normal,” as we wrote in a past article in this space, will be quite abnormal when viewed from the vantage of our present lifestyles.
So come 2022, we must think very, very well, when we choose someone to take the helm of our ship of state.
One thing the pandemic and its concomitant effects on practically everything should teach us is to stop believing in rumors, and stop speculating about scenarios bereft of true facts.
We cannot turn the clock on the use of social media; that is a given, whether in the present normal or the “new” normal. But social media has added a frightening dimension to rumor, gossip, malice and outright fabrications, and all of us, at one point or another, have become victims of such canards, or worse, co-purveyors of what turns out to be “fake news.”
The “woven” story behind a medical evacuation jet in Davao proceeding to Singapore, followed by Spox Harry’s use of the rather frightening term “perpetual” to describe the President’s perfectly correct isolation to prevent possible contagion, what with no less than his key cabinet members having become victims of Covid, and then the unexpected and uncharacteristic, emotionally charged welcome remarks given by DFA’s Teddyboy Locsin before returning OFWs, all put together, and reported one after the other last Monday, is an example of sly and devious propaganda taking advantage of disparate events to fabricate a climate of fear and foreboding.
Enough of this. We need to pull together, else, we perish together as a nation.