A Message of Hope, Part 1: Achieving “Covidya”
Avidya is a Buddhist concept that describes a kind of ignorance that stems from an inability to see the nature of reality. The word “vidya” is the root of our word “video”, and comes from ancient Sanskrit meaning “to see” – hence avidya is “not seeing the reality of things”. (Putting an “a” in front of a word makes it the opposite, like atypical or atonal). I believe that it’s possible that COVID may have a beneficial side effect, to bring humanity into a state of “covidya” – the capacity to more clearly see the reality of things… together.
To understand the big picture, take with me a journey back in time, way back to the Cambrian explosion 500 million years ago… when we were single cells trying to figure out how to evolve into multi-cellular organisms. This particular process of advancing to the next stage of evolution, called coadunation, required learning how to work together. In my forthcoming book, “Coadunation: The Emergence of the Global Brain,” I propose that the very first requirement for the coming coadunation of human consciousness is learning how to see reality clearly collectively.
It’s occurred to me that this pandemic might even be a test for humanity, albeit a cruel learning experience that could wipe out a huge swath of our species if we fail. And it’s more than just this pandemic. Eric Toner, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has said, “Infectious diseases will continue to emerge and re-emerge. I think it's part of the world we live in now, an age of epidemics because of globalization, because of encroachment on wild environments.” If so, then we will be forced to repeat this painful test, as well as others like climate change, over and over until we learn the lessons and evolve.
To say this in plain language, for humanity to survive, those who deny facts and science and maliciously attempt to distort reality for their own benefit, need to stop doing that! It’s time to hop onboard the Global Brain Train, and join the rest of humanity in a state of covidya. This is humanity’s next evolutionary leap into the future.
So, in practical terms, what are the lessons of this pandemic?
Lesson 1: To See Reality Clearly, Trust the Science
First, everyone needs to trust the science, act rationally and work toward a common goal, such as the collective effort to “flatten the curve” of the epidemic so more people will survive this epidemic. Of course, there are those who are panicked be rational, and will try to break out of quarantine. And there are those who deny the scientific reality to minimize the danger, and go out and party because “it’s only a flu.” Finally, there are criminals who are actually trying to take advantage of the pandemic. For example, scammers are now deploying sophisticated phishing attacks, posing as PG&E and utilities, and using spoofed calls that display PG&E’s phone number as their callerID, and telling people to pay up or get disconnected within the hour. These people who are taking advantage of the pandemic to prey on the weak need to be caught and made an example of… very publically humiliated and sentenced to decades in jail.
NOTE: Beware of increased scamming during the pandemic. PG&E’s stated policy is to suspend all disconnections during a shelter in place order.
Lesson 2: Problems are Actually Opportunities
Actually, I believe that this pandemic is also a remarkable opportunity for innovators. Over the last couple of weeks, I simply can’t stop having ideas about products and services that could flourish during the pandemic. For example, after using a public restroom, I looked at the doorknob and my fear response yells, “don’t touch that!” Suddenly, my subconscious came up with an invention – I saw a bracelet in my mind’s eye, made of antimicrobial plastic that flips around to become a tool for operating doorknobs. My conscious mind starts brainstorming, and suggest the bracelet could spray some sanitizer as well. I’ve been getting dozens of crazy ideas like this, nonstop. I’m far too busy to try to productize these ideas, but damn, nothing like a deadly pandemic to kick the inventive parts of the brain into hyperdrive.
One idea occurred when I was looking at ordering some food to be delivered. My fear response asks, “how do I know the cook at the restaurant and the delivery guy isn’t infected?” I file away the idea, and the next day, I’m watching the news and I see this segment about how fast food delivery services in Wuhan are now measuring the body temperatures of cooks and delivery personnel and noting their temperatures as part of the receipt. In Wuhan, 95% of all food delivery orders requested contactless delivery service with health verification. Someone should make a device like that here in America that automates the process, maybe with hourly temperature measurements posted on a blockchain. If the cook develops a fever, it can send the data to the CDC and warn prior delivery recipients to be careful or get tested.
So the pandemic is a rare opportunity for entrepreneurs to test their mettle and step up to the challenge. It’s a serious opportunity to get innovative and make some money. It’s like that movie, The Martian, when Matt Damon’s character says, “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option… I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”
Our only option is for us to collectively rise up and science the shit out of this pandemic and come up with brilliant ideas to save lives and the economy.
Lesson 3: Now is the Time to Lean in and Lead
As cities and countries “lock down” to contain the virus and slow its spread, a remarkable period of isolation is being presented to us. Some of us will spend this time playing video games and watching porn. Others will prefer to watch Fox News peddle racist conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus. And a more than a few will get lonely and depressed during their sequestration.
However, I suggest that a different path is possible. Perhaps we can view this coming period of isolation as a profound opportunity for introspection, which may trigger a personal awakening and provides us with an opportunity to develop a new kind of leadership for the 21st century.
For example, when friends of mine recently canceled a physical conference, I advised them to move quickly toward replacing it with an online event. And to not to just cookie-cutter the online version and use the “safe” technology options for webinars! I suggested using new emerging technologies that reduce virtual social distancing to make up for the increased physical social distancing. This new form of leadership uses a new kind of videoconferencing to connect at an emotional level, and will lead groups of people to generate community resilience and group cohesion. But it’s a challenge to figure out.
Take for example, Presidential contender Joe Biden, who recently gave a victory speech after winning a slew of primaries to become the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party. Due to COVID, he had to give the address from a makeshift stage in his home rather than at a rally. Afterwards, newscasters immediately started talking about how difficult it is to project and look good, without the right lighting and camera. This was clearly on their mind. And check out the farewell videos from the late night talk show hosts, their jokes fell flat with a primed cheering audience. But we must admit that Joe did pretty good, and he did it by crossing the virtual distance and connecting at an emotional level. It was the equivalent of a fireside chat, filled with common sense and compassion, comforting the ill, and thanking the front line health care workers putting their lives on the line to help us all.
This is what all of us need to learn, from political candidates giving virtual speeches, to salespeople pitching over virtual sales meetings, to psychotherapists creating a bond over a cold and lifeless webinar system. Online is the new leadership medium we must all learn to master. You should know that new technologies for emotionally evocative teleconferencing are coming. If we combine these emerging technologies with adaptive presentation skills, we will be able to achieve I call “covidya-conferencing.”
And finally, you/me/we need to do it now!
The difference between winning and losing is measured by your resilience during a downturn. When a pandemic and global recession hits, you can either be like a deer frozen in the headlights, or a lion responding to a sudden threat to its pride. If you go into shock or get depressed, you won’t survive or thrive as adroitly as someone who loves a challenge and instantly rises to the occasion. It’s time to be a hero, not a zero.
There’s saying in Silicon Valley, that “entrepreneurs are like tea bags… you never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water." Well, we're all in hot water now. The next several months should provide us with a remarkable opportunity to test our mettle and show the world what we’re made of.
Another reason to respond aggressively is because a downturn is actually an opportunity. In competitive biking, all riders begin together as part of the peloton - i.e., the bunching of riders formed during a cycling road race. Because riders remain tightly grouped in the peloton, only the few who are in the front at any one time face the full effects of wind resistance. Those drafting behind, like a school of fish or V formation of birds, can more easily maintain the peloton's pace.
Usually, it is very difficult for those lead riders to escape the peloton, except when encountering a steep hill. This is because as the riders slow down on a hill, the effect of drafting is lessened, giving a chance for the strongest riders to break away and outdistance the peloton.
The same goes for business, you often need a hill - in this case a recession - to break away from the herd and strengthen your brand. And there's evidence to support this strategy. There was a study by McGraw Hill that found that advertising during a recession yields an amplification of sales growth for those gutsy enough to make their move, compared to competitors who cut back. The gain, or lift as they call it, was found to be 135% to 275% better if you stepped up advertising, rather than cutting it back. This means that advertising packs twice the wallop during a recession.
So, do you have what it takes to breakaway and win? We are all facing a very steep hill right now, but it’s the winners who think, “bring it on, the steeper the better” – and this is the mother of all hills we’re facing societally. The winners will be the most resilient of entrepreneurs, who exude hope and indefatigability with every breath.
This is perhaps the greatest lesson of covidya – that all of us, together, must demonstrate collective intelligence, courage, and cohesion. It is no longer possible to lie, shift blame and gaslight. All of us, seeing and working together, can not only persevere but there’s a chance that we can do something amazing. If so, our species will emerge from this challenging time ready to make take the next step in human evolution.
You know, this isn’t the first time this has happened. The Dark Ages led to the Black Death, a devastating global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s, that killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people. But this eventually led to the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, which was, perhaps, the most significant period of discovery and growth of the sciences in the whole of history. This cycle is happening again, but with global air travel and accelerated Internet time. In fact, did you know that Isaac Newton achieved his greatest breakthroughs in calculus, optics, and even gravity... when he was forced to "shelter in place" during the bubonic plague in 1665-67? So can you!
So it’s not the dark end of the world, but perhaps the beginning of a bright new age. And after this pandemic is over, when all of us are able to come back together again, we will be like separated lovers who, at long last, are able to embrace each other again. We will be stronger and more devoted to each other because of the hardships we endured. If we rise to the challenges of this pandemic, it could strengthen us. It could evolve us. It could bring us to the doorway of humanity’s next renaissance.
This is a labor pain that could lead to the birth of coadunated consciousness.
* You can find out more about my forthcoming book, Coadunation: The Awakening of the Global Mind, here: ABOUT THE BOOK, and here: www.coadunation.info. The next article in this series will deal with increasing personal and business resiliency during the pandemic.