BY RAVI CHAUDHRY (World Business Academy Fellow)
2020 marks the beginning of a grand big reality show, in which each of us, over seven and a half billion, find ourselves thrust on to a planetary stage. There was no rehearsal, there is no script; there seem to be no directors either. We are by ourselves, trying to make sense of the successive scenes flashing across. We are getting restless. How long will this continue? When can we go back to where we were? Someone suggests it may not happen. Perhaps never. The curtain falls.
The next Act starts soon. The same Planet. The same actors. But nothing else is the same – at least not now. Many of us are getting resigned to political leaders strengthening their control and deepening the ‘recession of democracy’, while some others are figuring out how the crisis could make the world better.
The policy frameworks in the wake of COVID-19 generally point towards an acceleration of the trends already underway – a world turning further inward, within the nation, on the anchors of de- globalization, nationalism, and populism. All these measures to revive GDP growth, perk up stock markets, and restore delinquent companies, focus on sustaining the status-quo, conveniently ignoring that while we are all in the same storm, we are in different boats.
We may get respite from COVID-19, but another fiercer adversary may soon appear. This will continue till we realize that these pandemics, as also the acts of aggression or terrorism, and the typhoons and tsunamis, are not accidents or results of planetary movements – but more a consequence of our collective misdemeanors.
Apart from merely looking inwards (within the nation) for economic growth, it is time the leadership today also starts looking inwards (within themselves), for reflection on ‘values’ and what really matters. Why am I doing what I am doing? For whom? For what? Is it fair to all? By looking inwards, information and knowledge acquire a new meaning. You start questioning your long-held assumptions and beliefs; you even start questioning the questions.
For example, intensification of geo-political rivalry is not an unavoidable fait-accompli. In fact, avoiding it is the only effective way to ensure we do not sink in to the nightmare of an L-shaped economic precipice, but move faster to a U-shaped revival. The destiny of the human race is more inter-linked than ever before: either we all grow, or we all perish. The ideology of confrontation, be it international or intra-national, is beginning to imperil our survival. There is more that unites the global citizens than what divides them. Cooperation and collaboration among nations can create greater universal prosperity at much lower cost.
A character named Mike, in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, is asked how he went bankrupt. He responds, “First gradually, and then suddenly.” The same fate could await the global leaders that persistently disregard the glaring signals.
Continuing to deny climate change is a virtual global suicide pact. Inequality and not the clash or civilizations is the root cause of fractures in the world today. The whole planet belongs to us; territorial ambitions, threats of armed conflicts or military actions may create a façade of transient power, but everybody loses.
The future of the human race depends not on a few who are excessively rich and powerful, but on the billions who comprise the lower half of the heap. Day by day, they are gradually losing, first the meager savings, then the confidence, and then all hope. It is still within our capabilities to reverse the downfall, and chart a new trajectory to usher in a safe new world, a “United Planet of Nations”. The potential upside for both the leaders and the masses is enormous.
You look back – you will be swamped in pessimism.
You look forward – you sense justified optimism.
The sunlight emanates from a rapidly-growing mass of civil society and business leaders and new groups of volunteers miraculously sprouting in every nation. The global unity we see in “I can’t breathe” campaign is an unassailable confirmation of the new big wave of togetherness, comprising people who are all looking inwards in their renewed quest for values.
The pause provided by COVID-19, and ‘I can’t breathe” movement has been a rare occasion for all actors to reignite their imagination. It is prudent not to perceive any inequity or inequality as mere destiny. There is no room to exclude anyone on basis of colour or creed, caste or nationality.
Looking inwards within oneself can help all to conquer new frontiers and create new worlds – where the only competition between corporations and nations will be for becoming more just and more equitable than others. Let a new leadership race begin! Now!