Lessons from this pandemic…why paradox matters
This pandemic represents something unique in our contemporary history; we are witnessing a natural disaster impacting every country across the globe.
In many ways COVID-19 has been a great equaliser. Collectively people are living through a global pandemic which has brought society and communities closer together; an experience that has increased our capacity to collaborate, empathise and connect meaningfully across boundaries.
However, alongside an overwhelming sense of ‘being in it together’, many divides and inequalities have exacerbated. Whilst the dominant narrative is about feeling more connected, the alternative reality is those left vulnerable, alone and fearful. To me, COVID-19 presents a striking paradox which offers a rich source of reflection and an opportunity to expand our thinking and impact.
The virus makes no distinctions; politicians, prime ministers and international superstars have all been infected and hospitalised by COVID-19. No-one is immune and there have been many tragic deaths. Governments, medical professionals and the business community have united to advance our chances of challenging the virus and producing a vaccine. Political divides have taken a back seat in favour of collective efforts to keep people safe and governments have increased social and economic support for the vulnerable on an unprecedented scale.
Curiously, it strikes me that the opposite is also true. While we face a global challenge, each country is choosing a unique and in some cases divergent response. In the midst of complexity and uncertainty, friction, division and blame have surfaced. Social support and financial security has increased for many however the poverty divide has also been magnified. Undeniably, the affluent are more able to protect themselves from the worst economic and health effects of the pandemic.
For many, ethical, cultural, social divides have also been exacerbated. Multi-cultural and lower socioeconomic communities are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and there are widespread concerns domestic violence has increase exponentially. We know a fifth of children living in low-socioeconomic households are without a computer or tablet to participate in learning. At best, some children are sharing equipment in a crowded house and at worst, others are socially isolated and not feeling safe.
In considering these contrasting perspectives, I am reminded of our opportunity to choose what we see, to lift our gaze beyond our own experiences and remember that our reality is only our reality; that whilst we might be in the same storm, each of us are in different boats.
In my role as a coach, I often find myself noticing paradoxes; contradictory patterns emerge and can create dissonance through challenging our sense of certainty. We can have a tendency to contract rather than expand our thinking; to look for the answer rather than explore the possibilities.
Many of the leaders I work with have been trained as experts; knowledge has been a foundation to their success and brand. People trust they will either ‘know’ the answers or can deduce the answer when they have the right information. However, perhaps no single perspective is ‘right’, simply more or less useful at any given moment. Our capacity to hold multiple perspectives, work with uncertainty and step outside of our experiences, personal beliefs and prejudices is an important resource for us as professionals and leaders. Some of the most important ‘truths’ are contradictory or paradoxical in nature and create a rich context for learning and change;
- The more you learn, the more you realise how little you know
- Gaining a greater understanding often creates more questions than answers
- The only certainty is that nothing is ever certain
- Not taking a risk is perhaps the greatest risk of all
- The things we find most difficult to accept in others, are often something we struggle to see in ourselves
- Vulnerability is the key to being courageous
I wonder what might emerge if the next time each of us is faced with a paradox or opposing reality we resist the tendency to confirm one perspective and instead, embrace the dissonance by actively choosing to ask an open and curious question. My prediction is, we will foster an increased sense of connection, creativity and trust and learn something of value.