“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Whether you attribute those words of wisdom to Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” or further back in time to Saint Francis of Assisi, they are probably as profound as they’ve ever been as the world faces the calamity of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this troubling time, it’s discouraging for me to see some folks still cling to what divides us as a nation, rather than finding common ground that can move us forward in addressing the problems we face. Watching and reading the daily news coverage can be discouraging, as far more effort seems to be put forth in attributing blame rather seeking solutions. It would be like having a critically ill relative and the doctors would rather confer on who is to blame rather than treating the disease that is laying waste to your loved one’s physical and mental health.
I’ve been thinking about our current situation and believe that there are two great truths in what we are experiencing with the pandemic. The first is that everyone’s individual suffering is unique. The second, and just as important, is that we are all in this together. Our differences – rich or poor, urban or rural, physically healthy or frail, a happy home situation or domestic dysfunction, extrovert or introvert – all contribute to how we are experiencing a world turned on its head. The boxes we check shape how we view the problem and the solution. Reality also tells us that there are over 300 million people in the United States and our reactions, while all different, ultimately require some sense of community and cooperation.
In normal times we often have the luxury of frequently operating from a state of pure self-interest. I believe this is a recipe for disaster in the current world we live in. Now more than ever we need a sense of community and cooperation. All or nothing statements or propositions that we might easily carry out in normal times are no longer sufficient. In order to move forward, we need to engage in critical thinking and compassionate understanding that leads to thoughtful action. We must endeavor to save lives and livelihoods. This is not a zero-sum game, and there will be a cost to the solution. We can’t keep the country indefinitely on lockdown, but we do have open the country up in a responsible manner that does the utmost to save lives. Some cities, counties and states will make the difficult decision to proceed in opening up earlier than other parts of the country. We can certainly question their decisions, but in some form, they are giving us an opportunity to learn what is feasible and what is not. Every city, county, and state will have to make that decision at some point. Ridiculing those that go first or those that go last doesn’t serve any meaningful purpose.
It’s become clear to me and many others that the heroes in the fight against the pandemic come from all walks of life, every type of background, different political affiliations, and different parts of the country. Healthcare workers, truck drivers, and grocery store workers have kept the country fed and cared for over the last two months. The last six weeks has highlighted large corporate concerns to singular individuals; their businesses retrofitting their capabilities from clothing to face masks, from auto parts to ventilators, from vodka to hand sanitizer. The stories are coming from the heart of Republican parts of the country like Louisiana, “Truckers hailed as ‘road heroes’, ‘backbone of this country’ during coronavirus pandemic,” to Democratic strongholds like New York, “82,000 Health Care Workers Volunteer for New York.” A high school teacher in Alabama used part of his stimulus check to pay the utility bills for the families of some of his students. Almost every community is being supported by those who are still stocking grocery shelves and manning pharmacy counters.
Folks, it’s clear that we need far more focus on solving the problem and those who are helping to keep the country moving forward. We are in the storm right now; we can’t sit still and argue about how we got here while we get lashed upon the rocks. Rather, we need to keep moving forward with plans to navigate out the storm. Sometimes this will mean going in a direction we don’t agree with. The stark reality is we are all operating with a limited amount of information and experience when dealing with a one-in-a-hundred year pandemic. For any of us to claim absolute knowledge of how to get out of the situation is folly. We need to take the time to listen to each other without ridicule and appreciate each other’s circumstances, and then learn from the efforts we each make as we take steps to move forward. Those communities that elect to open first should be able to do so in a manner that allows them to take steps and make adjustments (including pulling back if necessary) in prudent way.
It’s also highly likely that the world and or economy in particular will look different as we emerge from this crisis. The long push towards economic globalization may no longer be the favored model. We may see a more balanced approach between globalization and self-reliance within the US. For good or bad, we may see our health care system, including how we fund it and how pay for it, reconfigured. With the disruption of global supply chains and the increased money supply that the various central banks are pumping into the economy, future inflation seems almost inevitable. Any economic crisis (and this is a big one) will temper people’s willingness to spend and invest. How long people go on a diet of heavy saving will impact how quickly we accelerate in the path back to economic prosperity as a country. Lastly, what role will China play? And what role will the United States play?
This country has shown enormous resilience in emerging from past crisis. Whether it’s been overcoming our brokenness after the Civil War, reclaiming our economy after the Great Depression, or emerging victorious from World War II. We are a free market democracy so there have always been differences, but so far the common ground we find in our basic shared values have carried the day. Hopefully, we remember that there is a time to set down our differences and gather up our shared strength. I am better served by watching a little less news coverage of the blame game and doing what I can locally to help those in need.
So as always – be vigilant and stay alert, because you deserve more!
Have a great week.
Jeff Cutter, CPA/PFS is President of Cutter Financial Group, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor with offices in Falmouth, Duxbury, Mansfield & Southlake, TX. Jeff can be reached at email@example.com.
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