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Pandemic Darkens the World: What Good Is THAT?*

A little more physical distancing needed now, of course: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres fist-bumps African colleagues. (Wish I knew who they were.) I choose to love this image. (photo courtesy UN)

*(4th in the “Silver Linings”series, which began here in my house, and ends here, on Earth.)   [8-minute read]

In some ways, finding the bright side of the Covid-19 crisis is hardest at the international level. It was easiest inside the four walls of my own home, and required successively more vision and awareness as I moved from civic good news to national bright spots to this challenge: does a global perspective offer much in the way of hopefulness? I must say: I can be a gloomy sort of Gus. I lean in to sadness and uncertainty and so many hands (“on the other other hand…”) in my preferred movies and books and songs. (Dar Williams and Her Deep Well of Sadness¹ pretty dependably make me weepy.) Still, my Thinking Cap has a propeller on it, blowing me ever toward possibility and a belief in the eventual triumph of common decency and basic good sense. So.

                   ¹ This is not the name of her band. She mostly flies solo. (And she’s funny, too.) Back to our regularly scheduled post.

I concluded Part 3, which focussed on Canadian candles in the wind and gloom, with some final thoughts on internationalism. We in the North pride ourselves, at least insulated little pockets of us do, on being a UN-friendly, outward-looking nation. We’ve always tended to be a bit more restrained in our flag-waving than the Americans are, though they’ve rubbed off on us uncomfortably (for me, at any rate) in that way as well. Internationalist visionary and global community-builder Shoghi Effendi – no Canuck, though he did marry one – argued powerfully about the negative side of nationalism. No problem, he wrote, with “a sane and intelligent patriotism”, especially to prevent over-centralization and an overbearing global authority, but between the wars he fingered unrestrained nationalism as one of three “false gods” that threatened human progress and peace. (Communism, of the Soviet flavour at least, and racial-superiority doctrines of every stripe were the other two.) Well, please pardon me for getting all amateurishly philosophical on you. But the brightest of the silver linings behind the darkness of a global pandemic touch on the following: the extent to which we think globally, act cooperatively, and generally show signs that we get that we’re all in this together. Guided by Shoghi Effendi and others, I’ve learned to see humanity as having an extended, collective bar mitzvah. Our maturity as a species grows with our understanding that we are truly citizens of a shared and single planet.  

That’s big and heavy. Never fear. I’ll start with the low-hanging fruit, the most obvious signs of goodness in a bad time for humanity.

  • ALL THE WORLD’S OTHER PROBLEMS HAVE MAGICALLY GONE AWAY! When was the last time you heard about nuclear proliferation, terrorism, hunger, poverty in the Global South, or tensions between North and South Korea, or, like, the Middle East, huh? Am I right or am I — (Oh. Right. That stuff’s all out there even if the news doesn’t have room for it anymore. And is that a silver lining in itself? Not really.)²
                   ² So ends the comedy part of the show! Thanks, you’re a beautiful crowd!

Well, that’s not exactly a silver lining. Let me start over.

  • THE PLANETARY ECO-CATASTROPHE IS OVER! HAS BEEN SLOWED DOWN. A LITTLE BIT. FOR NOW.  Is it just me, or am I breathing better? It’s hard to see it clearly in a small, non-industrial city like Ottawa, but Los Angeles smog is vastly reduced. The canals of Venice haven’t been this clean in forever. Industrialized Chinese cities oppressed by a heavy blanket of thickened air – with a level of particulate air pollution we can barely imagine in the West – are breathing easier and seeing farther than they have in many years. Even scientists studying these changes don’t necessarily want to celebrate – Look, everybody! Pandemics are good for global health! is not a sane position to take, for anybody – but we shouldn’t be afraid to point out that industrial slowdowns aren’t ALL bad. This doesn’t mean that the climate crisis has been brought under control, far otherwise, but it does give us some not-so-subtle hints: first, that “back to normal” clearly isn’t what we should, in the largest sense, be hoping for; second, especially for the environmental nihilists, these improvements remind us that big changes are possible, even when they’re forced on us. Even being compelled to do the humane and right things isn’t all bad!

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Guest Post: MP Freeman Reacts to “Silver Linings”

MP Freeman is *none* of these things, but I do like the image. Clashing (or gently bumping?) opinions produce the spark of truth…?

[4-minute read. An old friend of my site sent a reaction to this piece, which was both too long, too smart and too well-written to stay in the Comment section. Mr. Freeman agreed to my posting it instead as a guest article.]

 

 

So what are silver linings? Are they anything like gratitude? I’ve never thought of silver linings and gratitude as being the same things. Silver linings are nuggets of good that you can extract from the crap heap of something that has happened. A team loses a game. What do they look at as a silver lining? Maybe their defence played well; maybe somebody made a good shot. Maybe they drew a big crowd. Those would be examples of gold that they can extract out of the pain of defeat.

This pandemic isn’t the same as losing a game. There’s something drastically different about this, compared to other situations where we might search for a silver lining. And there’s nothing like praising the defence for playing well. This pandemic doesn’t have a foreseeable end; a game would. This pandemic, much the same as other crises over the ages, has set the world into a tailspin. The best that we can say about the situation is that we’re holding on for dear life. And we don’t even know whether we’re doing that well. Sorry, but to say that we’re looking for a silver lining amongst all of that might be a bit of a misnomer.

The old age home where my mother is housed right now has been under lockdown since about a week and a half before the country shut down. Contacting my mom in any way is very difficult. I used to see her all the time; we would sit and talk over supper at least three times a week. And one night a week I would stay for the entertainment and sit and enjoy the time with her. But since the pandemic all of that has stopped. Calling the home to see how my mother is doing burns up valuable phone time that they can’t afford to give each patient staying there. I have an old school friend staying there and he has a cell phone. His sister told me to phone him and that he would find my mom and put her on the phone. But I can’t do that, because that would put him in jeopardy because of violating the social distancing instructions. And I can’t go into the Lodge to see my mother because that isn’t allowed right now. Where is the silver lining in that?

A lot of people have been left at home not going into work every day. You would think that that has all kinds of silver lining tucked into it. But that just doesn’t seem to be the case. People like their routines in the morning; they might even need them. Getting going these days where we’re stuck at home during the pandemic is not easy for everybody. Getting up is a step in the process that is delayed. Some people, I would even say most people, don’t keep their routines in the morning which includes showering, getting dressed for work, having breakfast, brewing coffee, driving to work. People have been knocked off balance by this. Where is the silver lining in that?

Getting food is an adventure. Finding the things that you actually want to cook is sometimes problematic. Being able to go to the store to pick up that item that you missed or don’t have in the pantry is nonexistent at this time. So you’re trying to plan ahead for your meals but it’s not the same as it used to be. I’m finding that the meals I thought I would want aren’t the meals that I thought I would have on a given day. Everything is closed during the pandemic. People aren’t traveling, people aren’t going to museums or to parks or beaches or the boardwalk. People are being told to stay, to self-isolate and to maintain social distance. Many don’t leave their homes for days. Where is the silver lining in that?

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Canada During Covid-19: A Third Layer of Silver

PM Justin Trudeau, to the nation from outside his residence. (Photo from Maclean’s magazine, Canada’s national newser.)

[6- minute read. This is Part 3 the “Silver Linings Playbook” series, looking for Canadian good news amid the Covid-19 crisis. Part 1 is here, Part 2 down there.]

The slowdown that many of the fortunate among us have enjoyed – count me front and centre in that squadron – is not so obvious a benefit when we consider one’s country as a whole. Inevitably, and properly, the cost to the national economy receives scrutiny: how can workers in precarious jobs (or the under-employed) be supported, local businesses be sustained? And then imagine how many times the problems are multiplied in the majority of countries that are, to varying degrees, well behind Canada with respect to economic and social stability, particularly their health care systems, AND are not blessed with Canada’s combination of geographic massiveness and fewer than 40 million folks! And we all know: the pandemic is no picnic here, either, but imagine how awful things have been, or will be, in [insert your favourite fragile state here]!

All that pertains to illness and economic strangulation having been said – and I just read a New York Times piece in which Nicholas Kristof gets inside access at New York hospitals, so I’m not blind to blackened horizons – still, there *are* silver linings, and even in a careful, fearful nation state they’re not hard to find. Here are some of the Canadian beacons amid the gloom:

  • UNITED POLITICIANS. Sure, there’s some sniping, but the volume of dissent is much reduced. In our Parliamentary system, in which the elected government is shadowed (or hounded) by “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”, there is audibly less emphasis on opposition than on the preceding adjective. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, an arch-Conservative, has had public praise for Liberal Prime Minister Trudeau and members of his government! (My respect level for Ford is increasing; I might have expected him to be foot-dragging, ignoring scientists and muttering about “getting back to business as usual”, but he’s been a strong, sane and thoughtful voice, from what I’ve heard. He seems to be responding smartly, and with a humane compassion I wasn’t sure he could summon, to the needs of the time, and not holding on to partisan dogma. I’m pleasantly shocked, to be honest.)
  • CONFIRMATIONS: We can be oh-so-careful, maddeningly slow and frustratingly divided in our national conversation, but one strong silver lining is the continued reassurance that Canucks are actually reasonably well-governed, and have a clear tendency to often do the right thing, especially when the chips are down.

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Silver Linings Playbook: Covid-19 Edition, Part 1

It’s a cliche for a reason. [6-minute read]

(And HEY FOLKS: I updated my WordPressing, and just noticed that you might have missed page 2, a button you need to punch just below the “share” notice. Not too obvious, sorry.)

This pandemic is a bloody gigantic, forebodingly black cloud that has blotted out the the sun of Everyday Life. (Yet there’s no stopping the literal sun.) Buckets of rain. Hailstones like shot-puts. Figurative lightning strikes, mudslides and wildfires – just ask doctors in New York City, Wuhan, northern Italy, and too many other outbreak spots to name. And still I maintain, and human nature appears to insist, that there are bright spots that pierce the gloom, linings of silver behind the darkest of clouds, just as my mother always said.

I’m looking for them. Lots of us are, and we can train ourselves to see positives where they exist. This is not to suggest that we ignore suffering, nor to shelter in a comfortable place and whine about inconvenience, drowning our petty sorrows in self-absorption, but also not to be blind to the light that every darkness hides. You’ve seen what folks are doing in crisis. It’s widespread, it’s constant, and often it really isn’t that hard: you support your local foodbank, he shops responsibly, maybe she’s making some extra phone calls to family, friends, neighbours, WHATEVER — but I hope you’ll join me in Finding Goodness Where We Can.

Today, I’m reporting on fortunate consequences within the cozy confines of my Ottawa home, which I share with DancerGirl and our not-long-for-teenager-dom son, The Lanky One. So:

Within These Four Walls + Our Fully Functioning Roof + Sump-Pump. Hard Times Have Been Good to Find — Let Me Count the Ways!

  • INTROVERTS for the WIN! My bride laments the lack of people, and I quietly thank my lucky stars. I don’t know if I’m storing up Loner Energy or not, but I do enjoy the lack of appointments and obligations, really, to an absurd degree. Maybe this will pass, but it’s fun for now.
  • Hang-time with the Lanky One has been almost completely good. Cabin-fever hits him hard (I hear girlfriend rumours occasionally), but he’s funny, philosophical, and the all-in-this-together vibe is working for him. (Or on him.) It’s not as sudden as it sometimes feels, but our Ornery Teen is a rather congenial housemate. Silver! Gold!

BRTN*: Pat Riley’s The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players

[7-minute read]

’80s elegance: Armani on the sidelines, Magic on the hardwood.

* “Better Read Than Never”. I’m often late to the party, which prevents me from being a mere trend-follower. (Ha.) I’ve done a bunch of these untimely reviews/appreciations.

Covid-19 made me do it! (Alongside its henchpersons Disorganization, Procrastination and Distraction). You see, I’m in peak spring-cleaning form. Purge Mode. Pat Riley, one of the top leaders in the world of sport, has been leaning handsomely on the front cover of 1993’s The Winner Within in my collection of books on athletics and coaching. I had always passed it by, a bit leery of this seeming attempt to reap business fruits from his basketball story, so it seemed a great candidate for give-away. But here’s where my efforts at Stuff Reduction and Orderliness often go sideways; my thinking, exactly, was this: I can’t get rid of it without reading it first, right? So I did. I read it in a day, and when was the last time I gave myself that little gift? Happy isolation, everybody! And I found that I liked it more than I thought I would. The Winner Within is certainly of its time, it’s no masterpiece of reportage, but it has good stories and a solid underpinning of wisdom. And quotes! (I’m a sucker for books with quotations inspiring, and wisdom marginal.)

As I guessed, Riley’s book does have some tedious business cases and stretchy attempts to relate the Los Angeles Lakers Basketball Club to the boardrooms of America. On the other hand, it is actually well-written (no ghostwriter credited, but Wikipedia says there was one) and damned if I didn’t actually appreciate some of the external stories just as much as I did those of the rise and fall of the Lakers dynasty in its 1980s form. I was an avid consumer of that decade’s emergence of the NBA, as the Boston/LA, Bird/Magic rivalries fueled the rise to the prominence this league enjoys today. Since I viewed those rivalries through glasses with a distinct Celtics-green tinge – call it the Larry Bird Bias – it was interesting to read more from the purple-and-gold side of the story.

The Winner Within follows a thematic structure reminiscent of Joseph Campbell’s famed Hero’s Journey concept. Riley applies this framework to the changing fortunes of his longtime team, as the Lakers rose from late-70s gloom to Showtime!™ (and, to a much lesser extent, to the championship-ringless New York Knickerbockers that Riley coached in the early ‘90s). The NBA “Team of the ‘80s” undulates from the pre-Earvin Johnson lows to his Magic rookie season, in which (amazing to recall) a 19-year-old “Magic” Johnson energized a jaded superstar, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the entire Lakers franchise in an incredible rookie season, and then replaced him in the deciding game of the Finals, winning the championship MVP trophy.¹ So easy to forget how brilliant Magic was.

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