‘Beauty from ashes’

BY: Bernard Otabil
The prediction for a rebound like past events are not clear

I spent the last week of 2021 reading and listening to some of the brilliant “year in retrospect” stories, viewpoints and reflective pieces put together by some great individuals. Of course, looking back on past events is always a good starting point to begin a new thing. 

After all, as rightly captured, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. So, it is always prudent to pause, reflect and recalibrate where needed, and be bold enough to make the needed changes to achieve different results.
So upon reflection, I realised that even though the past two years have been anything but exciting, as far as our social and economic life is concerned, there are still reasons for us to be hopeful. I guess, we can still exchange the ashes for beauty.

Let me explain further. First off, remember that perfect conditions are rare. Yes- rare- so if you are waiting for conditions to be perfect before you make a move, you will never get started. And the beauty here is that, again, there are great stories about legends that depict why those who dare always succeed, and the fearful always find it tough staying afloat.

For instance, in Coriolanus, William Shakespeare demonstrates why we need to have the strength to deal with situations, regardless. He wrote: “when the sea was calm all boats alike / Show’d mastership in floating.” Clearly, what Shakespeare seeks to point out is that we can all claim some level of fortitude when we have not been put to the test. The sea is not always calm and so we will always have people who will become pessimistic about situations- situations such as how the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our social and economic life thus far.

Winston Churchill also has a thing or two to say about pessimists. To Churchill, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”. Some confusion in life is understandable because we cannot think the same way all the time. Significantly too is the fact that since we have different orientations in life we will always have differences in the way we do things. You have to be alert, at all times, to be able to spot facts from fiction. It is a fact that the pandemic has crippled many aspects of our life, but it becomes fictional play when we deem the situation as hopeless.

Therefore, you shouldn’t be daunted by the financial challenges of the past two years because we have faced similar (if not like for like) situations before. Do your best and luck will find you! Many of the successful companies that you find today were all built in periods of economic downturn: Microsoft, Apple, Disney, CNN, Fortune magazine, GE, Hewlett Packard and many more. It is our ability to understand complex ideas, adapt effectively to the world, learn from experience, engage in various forms of reasoning and overcome a wide range of obstacles that make us humans.

In the midst of the storm, we need to be hopeful as long as we are alive. We have already had a shot in the arm with the vaccine breakthrough, and even though we are witnessing increasing number of people still getting infected with the Omicron variant, there is still strong evidence to the effect that we are winning the fight against the virus with the vaccination drive. “Researchers are seeing signs that COVID-19 vaccines are helping to curb infections and hospitalisations among older people, almost 6 weeks after shots were rolled out in that group”, Nature, a research journal dedicated to ecology and evolution reported in relation to a study conducted in Israel. Please get vaccinated if you haven’t yet taken the shots because it is a key part of the global economic recovery efforts.

Of course we have been through ashes, and quite prone to despair. We have witnessed death, depression, social and economic problems, and these ashes hit us all at once.

But for how long will you dwell on the negatives? If you believe all the seemingly negative stories, why don’t you also have hope in the strength of the recovery process? There is beauty coming from ashes!

Indeed, the words of Solomon (in the Bible) that “there is nothing new under the sun” rings true in all situations. In fact, when you read through the global economic assessments reports written by public authorities and market participants over the past few days on the events of 2021, it all looks as if what happened almost a 100 years ago seems to be repeating today. The narrative, in some situations, sounds so familiar to some of the past events, like the era of the Great Depression of the 1920s or the Great Financial Crisis of the 2000s. You notice that the COVID- 19 has had devastating effects on public authorities (especially those in charge of the public purse), businesses and households, much the same way (some say much more intense) that the world moved in the periods of the aforementioned crisis of the past.

Whereas the conditions that precipitated the financial, economic and social problems of the past may be different, the effects have been the same, somewhat.

Currently, lives, and jobs have been lost. The prediction for a rebound, like past events, are not clear, and made more difficult with the mutating nature of the virus. In fact, temporary measures that were introduced by both fiscal and monetary authorities following the financial crisis of the 2000s are still in force, showing clearly that in economic crisis it is always difficult to pinpoint the exact timeframe within which the crisis would be resolved – or rebound would be firm. Destruction is quick, but rebuilding is always slow. This is so because of the nature, and how economic agents react to policy interventions aimed at kick-starting an economy that has suffered a slump.

All of these facts should be familiar to you, especially if you have been reading this column. But there is hope, hope that this phase too shall pass, and we will be back to pre-pandemic levels. And this is the big question- were the conditions “perfect” pre-pandemic? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Just get right into it and do your best. Soon the ashes will fade.

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