Taking stock over this past month… Where do we stand?

After one month of “lockdown” in most western countries now, it is high time to take stock – And I do not mean of toilet paper – Lol.
By now, even the most panic-stricken among us would have (hopefully) got over the impulse of acting like a maniac on a shopping spree, on the day before the Apocalypse – Where, obviously, the last thought would go to that worshipped white paper roll neatly piled in our bathroom.

So now that we have had some time to “adjust” and even regain some of our “shopping composure”, taking a step back and looking at where we stand as an observer can be quite “revealing”. So buckle up!

Musing over all what happened just within this 1 very “unusual” month, for me the most striking realisation was that, against the same background, there are two main kinds of people who have emerged…

But no need to rush to conclusions.

Being in a rush is the one thing nobody complains about these days.

So we can take a breath. And start from the beginning…

New “rules”… 

For all, the outset is the same: something unprecedented happened all over the world…
And, facing the new “invisible” threat of the current Covid-19 pandemic, one country after another, started to close its borders.
And its people within them…

Basically, it is like if the world has been holding a giant sign, reading:

Sorry. We are closed!

But the devil lies in the details.
And “revealing” nuances appeared in the way each country actually enforced the lockdown…
With a wide palette of colours ranging:

  • from very dark (such as China’s draconian measures keeping a population of millions locked inside their home for months on end) 
  • to lighter tones (as in many western democracies, where – among the exceptions to the “rule” – one could still count the blessing to step outside to exercise in the fresh air – for many, a daily dose of “freedom’s inebriation”, helping to keep some morale up)

As befitting for a renown orderly folk, in Germany the rules are pretty straightforward:
– Going out is only allowed for some “relevant reasons”,
– keeping “wherever possible” (yep! You are not expected to turn into “Spider Man” and climb on walls if the space is not big enough) a minimal distance of 1,5 meters from people outside one’s own household.

When your neighbour enters the elevator with you… And, to avoid getting close, you turn into a Covid-19 Spider Man!

Simple enough, right?

Well, one would hope so…
Yet, it would seem that or some, the temptation to “complicate” even the easiest things is hard to withstand.
After all, you have to occupy your mind somehow with all this extra time at hand, do you?
The first culprits are the news here…
But then again, what to report about where basically there is “nothing new” going on outside?

Antipodal interpretations… 

Looking at the number of reasonable exceptions to the restrictions that the regional authorities imposed here in Bavaria in an effort to “flatten the Covid-19 curve” of further infections, here is my personal favourite:

“Sport and exercise in the fresh air, however, only alone or with members of your own household and without any other group formation”.

I would baptise it as the “exercise-exit clause”.

Bless the Bavarian Ministry for that!

Honestly. I was quite quick to endorse “social/physical distancing” rules – To me more “breathing space” among individuals is, if one thing, an improvement.
On the other hand, I will probably go nuts pretty soon without proximity with nature!

But to my great consternation, even that little, much cherished piece of freedom was soon to be “trumped” by a newly possessed swarm of harmless-looking individuals.

1 – The “Preachers”… 

I see you there! Having some fun, are you? Go back inside… This is not YOUR park!

These are the “usual suspects”: Those who, in times of crisis like this, resolve to compulsively consume the news in search of “direction”.

Except that they do so:
– mostly from second-source media (newspaper, social media, TV, gosspp tabloids, etc..),
– rather than first-hand sources (the official site of the competent authorities – here the bulletin with the regulation of the regional ministry for health and care)

I will call them for short: the Rule-Takers. Or Preacher.

Because they simply “take” what they get, these second-hand news, and then start adding their own extra layers of interpretation to it.
Like a Russian-Dole…

And exactly like Preachers, they will feel the urge to lecture about their “rule” wherever they go – And where the rule is “silent”, they will go ahead an “fill the gap” themselves…
No matter how far fetched their conjectures go from the original source…

So here we come to the fiercely dissected “exercise-exit clause”.
What started as an innocent enough exception became soon entangled with all possible secondary meanings…

And a growing fraction of newly self-appointed “preachers” started to admonish whoever was “daring” to venture a bit further outside the city to fetch some fresh air – That is, without “fetching” at the same time the usual crowds of joggers and cyclers that started to swarm the city parks in search of some recreation…

Their interpretation was:
– that since you can do the “same” closer to where you lives,
– it must not be allowed to go somewhere else…

Appealing to reason – with the simple logic that, in a city of millions, like Munich and many others around the world, if all folk goes out at the same time to “exercise in the fresh air”, then good luck with keeping the 1,5 meters minimal distance prescribed (which, unlike geographical arbitrary limitations, is the key principle to be observed to curb contagions among people) – was completely lost on them.

So they carried on with their preaches… Unflinching.

2 – The “Scientists”… 

See? I am very concentrated here. Doing very important work!

At the other side of the spectrum are what I will call the “Rule Players”, the counterparts of the “Rule-Takers”… 

These are the inquisitive ones, the scientists. Those who actually do not stop at the appearance of the rule, but engage further.

They search for what the Latins already used to call the “ultima ratio” – And what in law is regarded as the “cardinal stone” around which the whole system of rules stand. The very principle that “justifies” the rule.

Now guess: what is the “ultima ratio” of the whole set of current Covid-19 restrictions?

Simple. To limit the spread of the pandemic, which is chiefly achieved
– by basic personal hygiene (wash hands, we all got it!)
– and, when with others, by maintaining a “safety” distance (1,5 or 2 meters, depending which side of the Atlantic you are).

Everything else, like the does and don’t of our everyday life, are corollaries of that. The ultimate goal guides the rules. Not the other way round…

Risk-averse or risk-aware?

Once upon a time, in a pre-Covid-19 free world…

I still remember a negotiation in Switzerland some years back where I was coupled with a very smart financial officer from my team, Sid. 

This was a multi-millions strategic deal, where we were facing so many challenges as opportunities. While going about the contractual clauses, I was refreshingly surprised to see that my colleague Sid, instead of taking the usual “cautionary” stance I was acquainted from other senior financial officers in my firm, got me with one simple sentence:

“You can assess the maturity of a party – whether a person or a company – by its willingness to take some risks. You have to be risk-aware. But you do not have to be risk-averse”.

Wow! I didn’t expect such deepness from a routine pre-negotiation exchange. That got me thinking… Even years after, I keep on thinking about such simple but far-reaching truth.

1 – Risk-Averse:

I think I am going to stay here… Forever

You can try to avoid all risks and play “safe”. With only one certain outcome: To miss out on growing beyond your comfort zone. And your “safety” will gradually close on you like a muzzle.

2 – Risk-Aware:

Here I come, World!

Or you can choose to face some risks, still aware of the interests at stake. There is no certain outcome here, but that’s what makes life worthy. And you get a shot to turning a challenge into an opportunity.

Being risk-averse or risk-aware can make a world of difference.

See where is this going?

Preacher or Scientist?

Closing the circle to here and now, this is what is happening:

1 – The Preachers

The answer is… NO!

They are forever “risk-averse”. No matter what nuances there can be, they will say “no” for principle. They will fixate on the limits, never seeing the “possibilities”.
It is easier to play “safe”. And before admitting defeat of what they are missing out, they will reproach everybody else who is not following their own made-up “rules” and “limiting beliefs”.
They see the rules are absolute “certainties” and do not ask any questions.

I was virtually “lynched” (bless “social distancing” for that!) by a couple of “fervent” preachers in this group, in the moment I “dared” to share my happiness for being outside, at the shore of a nearby lake, just outside the city, for a little SUP excursion.

For them I was committing a “crime” not keeping the allowed “exercise” within the narrow perimeters of my front yard, sort to say.

Keep in mind! While on my brief lake excursion, I was alone with my partner – and other relaxed happy souls also taking a sip of fresh air in the countryside, well away from the city park’s crowd.

Unlike for the thousand city-park lovers criss-crossing their ways, physical distancing was easily warrantied there!

The only other living beings that came closest to me were a couple of chilled ducks in the lake… And they were also keeping well beyond the prescribed physical distancing.
How considerate of the ducks!

2 – The Scientists

Hi there! Wanna play?

They are fully “risk-aware”. Except that they do use that awareness to explore further. They know what the limitations are, but they try to understand them and see where they ultimately lead.

They “play” with the rules, by asking questions: Why are they there? What do they mean? What do they intend to achieve?
And then they let their underlying meaning, not their naked precept, leading them.

And what is the rule in question meaning, and in fact the “ultima ratio” of the whole set of Covid-19 “unusual rules”?

Well, to slow any further contagion as much as possible.
How do you achieve this? 

Of course, in the first line by keeping the minimum “physical distancing” among people.

So in that optic, going for a little excursion in the wide, nearby countryside appears way more “sensible” than going for a “slalom-jog” in the nearest city park.

In fact, simply going for a supermarket – a piece of freedom that nobody is ever contending (luckily!) – is much more “dangerous”, in terms of proximity with other people, than anything else.

What now?

Of course, you can as well choose to renounce any freedom given to you, lock yourself at home… What did I say? Why even bother leaving your bed then? You can tuck yourself and just wait for this to pass…
Basically you can “live” like a secluded nun till the world is “safe” again.

But guess what?

The world was never – and is never going to be – fully safe. Because life is meant to be exciting.
And that starts with your willingness to take the first step… outside.
Out of your comfort zone. In the wild-wide world!

In this unusual time, fed by uncertainties, we all need to give each other more courage and, if not physical, emphatic support – Not more fear and judgmental admonitions.