Danger and Opportunity
The pandemic has shone a hot spotlight on other glaring crises in society that desperately need fixing. As Lincoln said, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion.” But do today’s government and business leaders have the courage to act?
By André van Heerden, Communications Director
I’ve heard the words of Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff, quoted a number of times over the past few weeks: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
I wrote a while ago about how the pandemic has changed my workplace, and how it’s given me an opportunity to look at how to improve how my team works. Such work couldn’t be done while we were overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks and deadlines, but the pandemic changed everything. The crisis has forced many to reexamine how things are done.
Governments around the world are dealing with the pandemic crisis. Within this crisis, other glaring issues have come to light. Understaffing and lack of proper care at long term care facilities and inadequate wages in precarious work are just two.
Many are hoping and praying that with such hot spotlights being shone on these issues that desperately needed changes would be made. And at first, it looked really promising that something—finally—would be done.
Healthcare workers were hailed as heroes. Lawn signs and videos and politicians everywhere said over and over that healthcare workers who were risking their lives to help others should be thanked, supported, and properly rewarded for their efforts.
Grocery store workers were also commended for risking themselves and their loved ones to enable the rest of us to continue to buy food for our families throughout the crisis. An emergency pay increase was introduced and given to many of these underpaid front-line workers to recognize their worth and their actions, which put others ahead of themselves.
John F. Kennedy said that “when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
Unfortunately, it appears that the opportunity is being misused. It’s being wasted on what’s best for the bottom line, or how best to hold on to power, or how to improve a brand’s public image, rather than actually helping those who are most in need.
In many countries around the world, governments are using the emergency measures enacted to fight COVID-19 to grab more power. The major grocery store chains have removed their bonus pay to their workers—despite the threat of the virus still remaining, despite all the grocery stores seeing record profits, and despite these workers barely able to make a living.
And in Ontario healthcare, our once celebrated heroes will soon lose their increased pay, are going to be subject to emergency measures that strip their collective bargaining rights, will face even worse understaffing, and suffer a cap on wage increases to a less-than-inflation one percent.
Instinctively, people are wired to want justice. How the crises of our day are being used feels unjust.
Einstein said that “the leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity, out of discord, harmony, and out of difficulty, opportunity.”
I’m positive Einstein was thinking that the opportunity would be one that benefits those requiring justice, equality, and respect.
One month before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, as he and his country were facing a monumental crisis, Abraham Lincoln sent a message to Congress:
The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise—with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
Current government and business leaders need to find the courage to do what our front-line workers have been doing: put others ahead of themselves and make real use of this opportunity to effect long term, meaningful change.