Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy. Lao Tzu and the answer to Global Pandemics

Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy. Lao Tzu

Before it moves, hold it,

Before it goes wrong, mold it,

Drain off water in winter before it freezes,

Before weeds grow, sow them to the breezes.

You can deal with what has not happened,

Can foresee

Harmful events and not allow them to be.

Simple words. Yet so difficult for most in this fast paced world we live in. We use up and throw away constantly in a world where abundance is the rule and not the exception. Until it isn’t. When the water is drained and the rocks beneath are revealed, the need for efficiency is at its highest peak ever.

These simple truths have been in existence since they were recorded in ancient times. Lao Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher and poet, well-known for writing the book Tao Te Ching. He was the founder of philosophy of Taoism, a religious and ethical custom of ancient China. He is largely respected as a religious deity in various traditional Chinese religious schools of thought. He is also believed by some to be an older contemporary of the famous philosopher Confucius.

Lao Tzu’s journey began as he set foot towards the western border of China, currently Tibet. He was saddened by what he saw around him: men being diverted away from nature and the goodness it brings. A guard he met on the border asked Lao to write down his teachings as he went. This is when he wrote the famous Tao Te Ching, a 5,000 character account of his thoughts and philosophical ideas.

The philosophy he recorded about managing the easy by anticipating the difficult is a very important lesson for mankind. It is the core of continuous improvement and making the processes we seek to improve more sustainable. It is vital that we reexamine this philosophy even in the midst of one of the greatest downturns in the history of modern man.

The global pandemic has revealed one of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of a connected society at the exact same time. We are so well connected that no one will escape the results of this pandemic on our engines of productivity. Yet it is that connectedness with no means of breaking the connection which has exacerbated the effects. Frankly, we depend on each other so much for resources, products, ideas, communication and raw material that we have created a Gordian’s knot.

For those of you who didn’t study ancient history, the Gordian knot was a knot that gave its name to a proverbial term for a problem solvable only by bold and decisive action. In 333 BCE, Alexander the Great, on his march through Anatolia, reached Gordium, the capital of Phrygia. There he was shown the chariot of the ancient founder of the city, Gordius, with its yoke lashed to the pole by means of an intricate knot with its end hidden. According to tradition, this knot was to be untied only by the future conqueror of Asia. In the popular account, probably invented as appropriate to an impetuous warrior, Alexander sliced through the knot with his sword, but, in earlier versions, he found the ends either by cutting into the knot or by drawing out the pole. The phrase “cutting the Gordian knot” has thus come to denote a bold solution to a complicated problem.

Now we find ourselves bound by a Gordian knot that was created by globalism.

We are all tied together in a giant problem that will require bold and decisive measures to unravel.

There are two paths in front of us.

Path one means that we close our borders to one another in every way possible. Separate the nations that interact now and allow for the strongest to survive and the weak to get along as best as they can. In the end, this will result in a slowing of innovation and the unnecessary deaths of untold billions of people. The advances in technology and methodologies that have occurred in the past one hundred years have occurred because of wide ranging partnerships and exchanges of ideas. Even the Cold War didn’t stop us from learning from those who were not aligned against our core beliefs. The end of that conflict allowed partnerships in space travel that could never have existed without cooperation.

The second path is to follow the suggestions of Lao Tzu and embrace change in a different way. Be bolder about applying the preventive measures of discovery and more widely anticipate the potential for future problems.

This is the time where we should be using our collective brainpower and creativity to examine the current crisis for the best ways to prevent the disruptions in the future. Instead of shutting down our global communication, we should be increasing the amount of information we share.

It is important of course to slow the spread of the viruses that affect our people. It is important to create the resources necessary to help people who are hurting now. But it is just as important for us to look for ways to prevent it from happening in the future. As the population continues to grow, we need to look for an answer to preventing the spread of viruses in the future. This will not end with the collapse of this current version of the disease. Diseases will continue to mutate and find new ways to spread.

But the cost to contain something that has already started is staggering in not only lives but treasure. Imagine if we had spent that same treasure anticipating building solutions to problems before they got out of control. Imagine if we really worked together to find solutions before they were needed to prevent the devastation that is surely now just beginning to be understood.

Imagine if we just got back to simple.

Lao Tzu is also famous for another sage observation: The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. It is time for leadership to take that first step.

It is also time in the world for all of us to let go of the fears that we have created inside ourselves. We need to heed the advice of the people in the medical field and stay out of harm’s way for a while.

Doing anything else is selfish.

Mister Mac

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