If there is one thing the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us it is that the future is unpredictable. Few people predicted the pandemic—that 2020 would turn out the way it has. We are not in control of events. But we can influence them. We can control our responses to events that are beyond our control.
The celebrated business author Margaret Heffernan writes in her new book Uncharted: how to map the future together that “…uncertainty is endemic… Outcomes aren’t inevitable…. What happens next is a choice.” Heffernan says that, according to research, it is impossible to predict anything more than 400 days ahead.
We may have aspirations for the future. Initiatives of Change, for instance, advocates “a hate-free, fear-free, greed-free world”. This presupposes everyone’s willingness to live in a spirit of love, trust and unselflishness. But five year plans are for the birds. And history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, Heffernan asserts. The Good Friday agreement of 1998 “was the result of human beings making decisions very different from those that had gone before.”
So how do we influence outcomes, our destinies? By being aware of, and honest about, our motivations behind our decision-making; and by acknowledging that we need a transcendent wisdom that is intuitive as well as intelligent.
Our means, our motives, determine our ends: we can be off course by only one degree to end up at a completely different destination, unless we change course. Our destinies are the outcome of our accumulated daily and often small decision-making: “Big doors swing on little hinges.” One day at a time. As John Henry Newman wrote in his hymn Lead kindly light: “I do not ask to see the distant scene. One step enough for me.”
Our daily decisions are shaped by our best ethical practices and our wisdom. We need a gold standard, a fixed point in the universe, a North Star by which to steer our lives. The four absolute moral standards, advocated by Initiatives of Change, act as such: honesty, purity of heart and motive, unselfishness and a love for people, planet and future generations. They are a useful tool by which to steer our ship of state on a daily basis. Not that we ever reach the North Star. We all fall short of the ideal. We are all on the same ship together. For that reason, we all need to seek and offer forgiveness.
There may well be more spikes, more waves, in the Coronavirus pandemic. But what we do need are new spikes, new waves, of empathy and solidarity, integrity and compassion, especially for those who have lost loved ones or been deeply affected by the pandemic. We need a spike in our determination to live in the light of moral standards on a daily basis. We need more spikes in our courage to face difficult decisions. And we need a wave in accessing the wisdom of the ages, especially in times of daily silent reflection which help to sort out our priorities.
Such responses will determine the kind of society we will build out of the current crisis.