I’m not saying anything especially ground-breaking when I say that the last several months have been catastrophic for just about everyone. There’s the pandemic, obviously. But that’s not the only catastrophe I’m referring to. There’s the murder of George Floyd in broad daylight on a busy street, which was not the first time a person of color has been killed without cause by a person of authority. There are the people whose deaths could have been prevented if they hadn’t been too scared to go to the hospital, the vast and still-growing number of people out of work who don’t know when or if they’ll get their jobs back, or the endless list of much smaller personal and social catastrophes that have come to light in the recent months. Some of these are much bigger than others, but they’re all catastrophes to one degree or another.
I wish these things weren’t happening. Not that I want to ignore them – I’m just tired of the endless stream of endlessly bad news. I’m sure I’m not alone there. So I’ve decided to figure out what good can be extracted from all this trauma and horror.
And here’s what I’ve come up with. Every time catastrophe strikes, it forces us to re-evaluate where we are, where we’re going, and what we want. When the pandemic shut down businesses all across the world (including mine and everyone else who deals in events), it forced us to stare long and hard at our businesses and think about how to adjust, transition, and innovate our way through to the other side. Some of us will have post-pandemic businesses that look virtually identical to the ones we had before, and some of us will have businesses that look very different. Some of us will be doing different work entirely. But none of us will have endured this professional catastrophe without being able to say that we’ve thought through everything we knew how to think about, and so we’ll be moving forward in the most intelligent way possible.
The same is true in every other type of catastrophe. If you’ve been through a divorce (which can easily be considered a personal catastrophe since nobody goes into a marriage planning for it to end), then you’ll know it involves a lot of self-reflection. What do I want in a partner? Do I actually want one? Who have I been, and am I happy with that? Who would I like to become? That process generally isn’t an enjoyable one, but it is a useful one. I can’t speak to this with any hard science to back me up, but anecdotally I can say that almost everyone I know who has gone through a divorce has ultimately decided that they are better off now than they would have been if they’d remained in their unhappy marriage.
In the case of George Floyd’s murder, that was a catastrophe that didn’t need to happen. But it did happen, and it has unleashed an enormous amount of conversation about what kind of society we want ours to be, what role the police should have as they strive to serve and protect, what to do about the subtle and pervasive racism that infects too much of the world we live in. And as the pandemic continues to disrupt everything, it continues to require us to think about the world we’ve built – access to health care, unemployment benefits, federal stimulus, international travel, supply chain bottlenecks, and too many other issues to list.
None of this is fun. Finding the best way forward during a catastrophe is rarely easy, and I sincerely wish that we didn’t need pandemics and murders and divorces to shock us into thinking deeply about the way we do things. Maybe someday we’ll learn how to evolve and change and grow without being forced to do it. But until then, I will take some solace in the fact that catastrophe demands that everyone it affects will be thinking about how to move past it – and when everyone is thinking about how to make things better, that’s when things tend to get better.