I started a new habit of watching a documentary immediately after work on my working Fridays. It helps me make the mental transition away from my desk, which I can reach out and touch from the couch, to a sort of semi-weekend rest state. This time, we watched “Totally Under Control,” the COVID-19 documentary.
This may not have been one of my better ideas. As a COVID survivor, it sort of gave me PTSD.
I don’t want to talk about politics - I actually want to talk about the business world. I’ve made my position on “debating” “politics” abundantly clear: no. I am not here for that. Also, I can’t understand why it is under dispute that viruses can jump from animals to humans and create deadly infectious diseases.
The question is not: Is COVID-19 real or a hoax?
The question, for me, is: Are there diseases?
Is there anything that someone can spread to someone else by coughing or sneezing?
If yes, then put a dang mask on! We knew this a century ago!
Actually, whether there is such a thing as a respiratory illness is a small sub-set of the problem that I think is actually posed by “Totally Under Control.” That is, how does a group of business professionals handle a problem?
The tail end of the documentary makes this point quite clearly. Sometimes it’s a pandemic, sometimes it’s a hurricane, sometimes it’s a wildfire.
What did the people of Pompeii do when they found out there was a volcano erupting?
Not quite 2000 years ago, the people living in the vicinity of Mt. Vesuvius ... did not know that it was a volcano. Just like the people of San Francisco circa 1918 did not know what a virus was when H1N1 hit. The poor Pompeiians had 11 hours before the final ash cloud would drop on the town, but they didn’t know that. Most of them crouched and hid and became human statues, monuments to disaster. Only a few managed to evacuate, just as a few left when the earthquakes started several years earlier.
Pompeii did not have any kind of emergency management system that we are aware of.
None of this is in the “Totally Under Control” documentary, by the way. Just me making connections with history.
There will probably always be a new kind of disaster ready to strike us humans here on Earth. Right now, we know what volcanos and tornadoes and earthquakes and gas leaks are. We know what plane crashes and terrorist attacks are. By this point in the timeline, we also know what pandemics are.
We had plenty of information and plenty of time to act on it, and this is where I will make the point I wanted to make about the business world.
This documentary was hard to watch for professional reasons. It is just blisteringly painful to watch as hard-working and well-meaning people, who are trying to do their jobs and save lives, are unable to make headway no matter how hard they try.
When the pandemic began, I was serving in a volunteer position in Toastmasters. I was called to an emergency steering committee meeting shortly before our international leadership made its formal policy. We all dropped everything, got on Zoom, and decided to move our activities online. It took about 90 minutes to meet and another few hours for the announcement to go out. Not long after, the international org came down and said, No in-person meetings until we say otherwise. Everyone nodded and... it was done.
Same thing with our work. We have offices all around the country. The corporation came out almost immediately with a multi-phase policy and sent everyone home. We continue to have some of the strictest standards in our industry. We get weekly updates, and there have been a few thank-you videos and virtual all hands meetings to remind us how it works. I suppose I should say that the company moved first, and I had that information to share when my steering committee meeting happened a week or so later.
Anyone who is good at their job can say, we could have done more and we could have done it sooner. Anyone who knows anything at all about WWII history knows, we could have done more and we could have done it sooner. Anyone who has been conscious for even a few weeks of 2020 knows, we are still not doing as good of a job as we could be, and lives are on the line.
This is going to be a very... instructive time of history to look back on. Maybe people won’t be talking about it two millennia later, like Vesuvius, but I’m certain they will a century from now. At that point, whatever format they use to watch it, “Totally Under Control” is going to be a core piece of primary source material.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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