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What COVID-19 is teaching us about solving big problems as a global society

Back in 2015 I wrote about Dr. Clare Graves’s proposed “leap,” which he described as “the most exciting transition the human race has faced to date” in my article, The Renaissance of the 21st Century. Here’s the relevant graphic:

We’ve been making the transition from Enterprising (the Industrial Age) to Humanistic since the 60s. And, back when I wrote my article, I admit I had zero idea what would prompt the jump from Humanistic to Integrative.

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Today, I’m thrilled to propose that the catalyst may just be our current global pandemic.

Not to be insensitive, of course—COVID-19 has devastated and continues to devastate families and communities everywhere. But I believe we’re in the midst of a global paradigm shift precisely because of how “felt” that devastation is—as opposed to say, climate change, which feels far less urgent even though it’s just as urgent.

The “felt urgency” of the COVID-19 breakout, amplified by humankind’s most connected status ever, seems to be bringing about the very transition Dr. Graves envisioned all the way back in 1974.

Thanks to the power of the Internet, this new coronavirus outbreak is teaching us how to come together around a global enemy far more tangible than our previous ones, like climate change (or, as Seth Godin more aptly refers to it, atmosphere cancer).

Regardless of socioeconomic class and political beliefs, we’re all equally susceptible to disease. Stephen King illustrates this well with The Stand’s extreme plague. COVID-19 may not be nearly as communicable or deadly as King’s government-created “superflu,” but the principles are the same. Peel away the layers of protections afforded to the more privileged among us, and we’re all the same squishy, susceptible beings.

Our overwhelming, initial reaction to the pandemic has been like a slug touched by salt or your finger: instant retraction into our smallest viable communities, curling in on ourselves and shutting our economies down. The staggering consequences of this hair-trigger reaction will be felt long into the 2020s, but I’m an optimist.

As we start to reopen our local economies in an effort to salvage some kind of economic stability, we’ll continued to be faced with the big question Neil deGrasse Tyson posed on The Late Show:

“Will people listen to scientists?”

If a critical mass of individuals can become educated enough about how disease spreads from person to person, we can once again begin to enjoy the close proximity of others without risking further economic and health crises. If we can inform ourselves by choosing to listen to and obey the advice of epidemiologists and virologists, we can not only function in a post-pandemic world, we can thrive in it.

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I feel strongly that this is the era Dr. Graves foresaw: one in which we learn to not only operate as a global tribe, but to thrive as one. If we can learn to respect COVID-19 and future diseases, if we can learn to operate in the face of a global pandemic without risk of spreading the disease, then I know in my heart of hearts that humankind can conquer anything as a global civilization.

Let’s keep informing ourselves, let’s keep working together to solve shared threats and achieve shared outcomes. As J. Howard Miller once illustrated so famously, “we can do it.” 

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