“The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use.” — Michel de Montaigne, 1573
We had massive thunderstorms here last night. Continuous rolling thunder, lightning that lit up the entire sky, warm rains, and even hail.
It was what all thunderstorms are: an interruptive and cleansing event between two weather fronts.
This morning, the birds were out and all was quiet as the sun began to peek over the horizon. The grass and streets were still wet and sparkled in a promising and refreshing way.
It reminded me about a topic that’s weighed on my mind recently: death.
Not in its finality, but in how it transforms those whose life it touches.
That’s probably not the topic you expected to see in a newsletter this week, but it’s one that needs addressing—in good way. Stick with me.
As I looked back over previous entries, I see that I wrote about death just eight weeks ago. In one sense, it seems too soon to bring up the topic again, yet in another sense, it seems like it was a lifetime ago.
That entry reflected on the legacies we leave behind — something every leader should bear in mind.
But on February 12, we didn't have the impact of a pandemic weighing on us. With daily reports of infection and death, it's difficult to avoid the topic.
As this newsletter drops on April 8, it marks the beginning of Passover and is two days before Good Friday, which leads into Easter.
These are two occasions that are among the holiest in each respective religion's calendar, and they mark traditions that are millennia old.
Passover is a Jewish holiday that predates the Bible, originally celebrated as an agricultural holiday associated with the first harvests. Later, it became associated with the Book of Exodus. Even if you're not familiar with the text, you've probably seen it retold in the Cecil B. DeMille version of The Ten Commandments.
God helped the Israelites escape slavery in ancient Egypt by inflicting ten plagues on the Egyptians, the last of which was the death of Egyptian first-born. In order to escape this, Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of lambs.
The lesson on Passover is one of thanks to God for helping his people attain freedom, and that despite the challenges we face, the future can be better than the present.
Good Friday marks the day that Jesus Christ was crucified. He is represented as sacrificing himself so that humanity can be saved. Interestingly, in three of the Gospels, we're told of darkening skies upon his death, and one mentions an earthquake.
The skies clear, and by Sunday, we have the resurrection that marks Easter. In the Christian church, it is the happiest of all of the holidays — even more so than Christmas.
It's no coincidence that these holidays take place in the spring.
Spring is a time of growth and renewal. When the dormant trees and flowers come to life and remind us that nature is once again taking its course.
Like the legendary phoenix that lived for 500 years and then a new one rose from its ashes, there’s a rebirth of sorts with these religious holidays: the people of Israel being delivered to the promised land, and a new religion springing from the teachings of an itinerant preacher.
Life goes on, even after the most unimaginable of circumstances.
“We’ve got to live, no matter how many lives have fallen.” — D.H. Lawrence, 1928
There’s a golden thread that runs through humanity that connects our past to our future and assures us that even if our present is rife with distress, we care about each other enough to ensure a habitable future.
Whether it’s the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made, or sacrifices our parents made when we grew up, or the life-threatening risks that healthcare workers face in the midst of COVID-19, we know that humanity looks out for itself.
There is hope for mankind in their sacrifice
We remember the Apollo 11 astronauts and mission because of their remarkable success of landing on the Moon and returning safely to Earth in 1969. But to the men and women responsible for this mission, it was anything but certain.
William Safire, a speechwriter for President Nixon, prepared a memo to be read by the president “IN THE EVENT OF MOON DISASTER” and it's one of the most beautifully penned short presidential speeches. It read, in part:
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
“[T]hey stirred the people to feel as one.”
That was probably the last time we had a chance to feel that way as a global society.
There’s a great deal of uncertainty in the business world at present, as much of the public is under orders to remain at home. The weakest among already beleaguered industries may be among the first to go.
Retail (outside of Amazon) was already in a tenuous spot before the pandemic; Macy’s may not survive after it furloughed all 125,000 employees. Seeing movies in theaters may be a thing of the past as AMC struggles with its loans. We see small businesses shuttering in cities around the country.
Yet at the same time, we see evidence of companies and individuals that are making sacrifices and going beyond the call of duty to provide for those most in need. Examples like:
Ford and GE are collaborating to produce 50,000 ventilators in 100 days
LVMH instructed its perfume manufacturers to begin making hand sanitizer for free
Chef José Andrés closed his New York City and Washington, DC restaurants and turned them into community kitchens
A college student is making masks for the deaf and hard of hearing, providing them for free
There are many more examples of goodwill and sacrifice in a Google Doc that I'm keeping. (It's fully editable, so feel free to add more as you see people and businesses contributing to society's wellbeing.)
“Cruel blows of fate call for extreme kindness in the family circle.” — Dodie Smith, 1948
Such gestures are a reminder that we will keep going and we'll look out for those among us who need help.
As we did during World War II, we’ll make sacrifices and we may ask everyone to pull together to see us through this once-in-a-lifetime health and economic pandemic event.
No one yet knows what it will look like on the other side. It certainly won't look the same. My sense is that it's going to seem like a deflated balloon, misshapen and overstretched, but still able to take in more air when ready. It won't be the same balloon, but it will be buoyant.
This means your team will be different; they’ll know the joys (and challenges) of working from home, and you might need to consider alternative arrangements for your employees.
Your business model may look different as well. Customers may have gotten used to different methods of getting your product or service, and may expect the same to continue; others may look forward to returning to previous ways of connecting with you.
As the storm clouds clear and the shining grass emerges, it’s a time of renewal. You’ll have a unique opportunity to build a culture of flexibility with your stakeholders.
A one-size-fits-all approach to running a team is a thing of the past. One person’s relaxing commute may be another’s stressful rush home to have dinner with the kids or see them before bedtime.
The same applies to your customers: some may want the no-touch experience on their turf, while others may want to see you in person at your location. You’re going to need a hybrid approach.
If you’re able to accommodate a variety of working and buying experiences, it’s going to be more complex. But allowing employees and customers to choose what works for them will only boost morale, loyalty, and results.
Whether it’s the Israelites escaping from Egypt, the apostles forging a new church without their leader, San Francisco rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake, or a small town cleaning up after a tornado, we see the irrepressible spirit of mankind, forever pushing forward.
Our balloons may be deflated after this, but our hearts are not.
“It is life, life that matters, life alone—the continuous and everlasting process of discovering it—and not the discovery itself.” — Fyodor Dostoesvky, 1868
Timely: Present Tense
“All that is human must retrograde if it do not advance.” — Edward Gibbon, 1788
We’re seeing an increase in video calls, but possibly the most tragic use of new tech is this: In life’s last moments, U.S. clergy minister to the sick and dying via FaceTime and Zoom. (Washington Post)
You know the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The modern version might be this: “When the going gets tough, the rich head for the hills.” The ethics of the wealthy fleeing cities due to coronavirus. (Quartz)
Americans have moved on from panic shopping and are now settled in for binge-viewing (no Tiger King here, thank you very much). With it comes the introduction of a new media platform: Quibi, led be Meg Whitman, in the final rebirth of her career. (The Verge)
Related: Quibi Reviews: The Good, the Bad, and the Meh (Hollywood Reporter)
Timeless: For the Curious Mind
“The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of fan illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business is to reclaim a little more land.” — Thomas Henry Huxley, 1887
There was a Saint Corona. Is she the guardian against epidemics? At this point, she may as well be. (Atlas Obscura)
In 1826, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote The Last Man, a science fiction novel about the late twenty-first century England, consumed by plague. Here’s an excerpt in “Goodbye to All That.” (Lapham’s Quarterly)
With any luck, you’re taking time away from your home work setup to be ambulatory. But please be sure to get everything out of the experience that you can: For the full life experience, put down all devices and walk. (Aeon Magazine)
Recommended Reading & Listening
“Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, 1911
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Thanks, and I’ll see you on the Internet.