On Monday, I sent out an email to the staff of MariaDB Foundation. In the hope that my thinking is also applicable for someone else, here’s a slightly edited excerpt:
For an unknown amount of time, we will live under exceptional circumstances. Yet, there will be life both during and after the Corona pandemic. With this email, I want to share my view on how Corona affects our organisation, on how we sustain life during Corona and on how we best prepare for life after Corona.
When facing adverse times, I fall back on thoughts and values I have read and contemplated. Two Finnish presidents, one German chancellor, and one ancient Greek philosopher guide my thinking for our Corona actions.
First in line, J. K. Paasikivi, the President of Finland from the end of World War II until 1956. He stated that the foundation of all wisdom is to recognise facts. Facts not being available, we will have to make do with reasonable assumptions: The best scientists estimate 60-70% of us will catch Corona within the next two years. Even if 80% have only mild symptoms and most of the rest survive, I think Paasikivi would classify this as very bad news. The future is always uncertain, but I don’t think it has ever been this uncertain during my lifetime.
Second in line, Angela Merkel, the current German chancellor. Her actions are based on “thinking from the end”. She deducts the next step from reasoning backwards from the end state. With Corona, the end state after the pandemic is that life will go on and the mission our organisation is fulfilling will remain purposeful, even if we may need to tackle different challenges.
Third in line, Sauli Niinistö, the current President of Finland. To complement the concept of Social Distancing that causes most of the current constraints we live under, he has devised the concept of Emotional Closeness. What a great concept! Through globalisation, there is often a long physical distance to those emotionally close to us.
Fourth and last, Zeno of Citium, the ancient Greek philosopher that founded stoicism. I think stoicism as such is the best philosophy to apply when dealing with Corona. “Fix what you can influence, live with what you cannot” is one basic stoic tenet, but not the only one helpful in Corona times. Reading up on how Stoics face adverse times might be more demanding than watching cat videos on YouTube, but can also be more helpful.
Then, my email goes on to deal with the concrete measures we are taking, to ensure our financial survival, as well as our emotional survival (something we address virtually with tools like WhatsApp, Zulip, Zoom, and Slack), and how we adapt our goals to the Corona hiatus.
My thought: For everyone, it’s wise to prepare for life after this. Sooner or later, we will start rebuilding a society, which after Corona won’t quite be like the one we know today. But it will be worth living in.
Until then, we should minimise suffering. Both physically and emotionally. First apply your own oxygen mask, then help others. This is relevant in all our roles, professionally and privately.
In a year, resources need to be in as good shape as possible. This applies above all to the workforce, which is to rebuild society. Until then, gross national products will inevitably shrink by tens of percentage points. But one beautiful day, we will again need hotels and airlines, restaurants and conference venues, swimming halls and sports arenas. Then, infrastructure and personnel must remain, somehow having hibernated until then.
I am asking myself what a simple blogger like myself can do to contribute, as a blogger. Not much. People like me, often having opinions outside my area of expertise, had better shut up, and listen to the experts.
But there is one thing I dare express my opinion on, and that is media habits. Those who today see a need to share pictures of shelves empty of toilet paper, pizza or pasta, what will they share in a month? “Here you see the ambulance that picked up our third neighbour. Isn’t it horrible?”. In two months, pictures from the intensive care unit.
Spoiler alert: Lots of horrible things will happen, the world over. Internet, especially Facebook, can spread “reality horror” of various degrees of severity. I am not even talking about fake news, but content-wise correct news. They will have high sensation value, but their effect on morale is devastating. For many months ahead, there will always be some place suffering really badly. If not right in your city or country, then somewhere else physically close, or emotionally close enough for you to care.
My appeal: Hands off reality horror. Don’t watch it. And, above all, don’t spread it.
Instead, share some good news, even if it may seem insignificant. And why not future dreams, about life after this. Hashtag #aftercorona – and perhaps include a picture. I will travel to Finland and go kayaking in the Archipelago Sea!