Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste”, Rahm Emanuel, then Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, famously observed in 2008.Our politicians and media are having a feeding frenzy with this latest one.Seen it before, bought the T-shirt.In the last 20 years, I have watched both manipulate crises for their own gain countless times.Here are just a few of them:    2000 Y2K is going to kill us all    2001 Anthrax is going to kill us all    2002 West Nile Virus is going to kill us all    2003 SARS is going to kill us all    2004 Oil prices and global famine are going to kill us all    2005 Bird Flu is going to kill us all    2006 E-coli is going to kill us all    2007 Lead paint on toys is going to kill us all    2008 Banking crisis is going to kill us all    2009 Swine flu is going to kill us all    2010 BP oil and bisphenol A (plastic) are going to kill us all    2011 European debt crisis is going to kill us all    2012 The Mayan calendar is going to kill us all    2013 North Korea is going to kill us all    2014 Ebola Virus is going to kill us all    2015 Measles is going to kill us all    2016 Zika virus is going to kill us all    2017 Rising seas are going to drown us all    2018 ISIS is going to kill us all(You can see a similar list at #thetruth.)There’s an old saying: A person is intelligent, people are stupid… which I take to mean that in these situations the herd mentality takes over from the individual mentality.With Y2K, I recall my neighbors stockpiling food and goods in large trash cans that they purchased specially. One day while I was walking my dog, I asked them what they were doing. They explained they were preparing for Y2K. I pointed out to them that Asia was 17 hours ahead — so if planes fell out of the sky at midnight over eastern China, they’d have plenty of time to drive to the grocery store.I can still see the stupefied expression on their faces.I mention this not to make fun of them (and they did laugh about it later), but to make the point that in times of crisis people tend to switch into herd mentality and let the media guide their actions.Every crisis since has seen the same herd mentality fueled by media fear sensationalism, and here we go again with Covid-19.No one wants people to get ill from a virus, especially one like bird flu, swine flu, or Covid-19, which also might come from animals. From what I’ve read in the medical journals (Lancet, epidemiology) Covid-19 might turn out to be less of a threat than the others…But the fear and panic induced by the media (and the need for those in authority to be seen to do something for fear of being eviscerated on social media by the herd) will go down in history.The 2009 swine flu pandemic is maybe the most relevant ‘crisis’ to what we’re watching with Covid-19:    >68 million Americans infected    >300,000 hospitalizations    >14,000 deathsObama eventually declared a state of emergency, but far too late.I suspect the underreaction back then is what is causing something of an overreaction with authorities now — no one wants to be accused of being asleep at the wheel and letting the virus out (like Italy’s leadership, for example).Coincidentally, in 2009 and 2019 more than 3 million Americans got seasonal flu and 80,000 people died.Flu seems to have a bigger impact on deaths, but it doesn’t make headlines that create fear in the viewer anymore. We know the flu and we’re used to it. We’ve all had it. The media can’t boil up fear about it anymore.A rogue virus, however, especially one originating in a rival continent?It’s like manna from heaven to the media and no politician is going to let a crisis like this slip through their fingers in an election year.Or at least if they were competent, they wouldn’t.“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”, said Shakespeare, but in this case the actors throughout the global stage come across as if they haven’t read their lines or even seen a stage before.If I ran my companies like they run countries, I’d be out of business in a heartbeat.This is probably the best opportunity they’ll ever get to achieve wall-to-wall coverage in which to show their leadership skills, and they all come over as bumbling cartoon characters.As importantly, it’s a critical moment for all of us to show up for ourselves and each other.And the best way I know how to do that is by taking charge of your own mind.


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