Lockdown has got me delving into the dark recesses of my bookshelf. Yes, I still like the feel of paper in my hands and the action of turning pages to find particular phrases, ideas or quotations that influence my thoughts ...
And so it was that over the last week I have been revisiting my rather dogeared copy of the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell in the immediate post-war era up until he died in 1950.
Re-reading these and other papers in what has been a turbulent time for all of us, I was struck by how often I could relate something in his writing to what is affecting us now. So, this is my version of Orwell's, As I Please. My apologies that my writing isn't up to the same standard as this legendary author.
The first thing that emerges as you read along his private letters is his progressive ill health. He had Tuberculosis which eventually killed him. We don't easily remember that TB was, and still is, a pandemic.
I quote the World Health Organisation (WHO) report:
"A total of 1.4 million people died from TB in 2019 worldwide. TB is one of the top 10 causes of death and the leading cause from a single infectious agent.
TB is spread from person to person through the air. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB germs into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected."
So, why haven't we been wearing masks and been in lockdown for Tuberculosis? I don't remember ever hearing these figures on the 6 o'clock news. Well, the World Health Organisation points out that it is treatable with antibiotics and preventable through vaccination.
We all had our BCG tests as teenagers at school. The only time we talk about TB is about badgers infecting cows. Also, those humans infected and die are usually in other countries. In other words ... it doesn't affect us directly so it's not news and it doesn't even come to the attention of the majority of us.
We interpret the threat of what affects us right now. We are not good at paying attention to threats that seem a way off. I remember thinking like that about COVID-19. I was not alone either. Speaking at a daily briefing on 5th March, the World Health Organisations' director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said, "We are concerned that in some countries the level of political commitment and the actions that demonstrate that commitment do not match the level of the threat we all face."
What made it real for me was when on the 7th March the BBC announced that someone had died of COVID-19 in my local hospital in Milton Keynes. I remember saying to my husband, "I think we should take this seriously."
As a quick aside ... the Cold War. Orwell summed up this very human response to danger: "The greatest difficulty of all is the apathy and conservatism of people everywhere, their unawareness of danger, their inability to imagine anything new. In general, as Bertrand Russel put it recently, the unwillingness of the human race to acquiesce in its own survival."
I'm going to finish off by looking forward to what we can learn from our reaction to the threat and taking it seriously and not put off things which threaten our future!
What have I taken away from this that I can apply to business? Well, firstly that between Brexit and the response to COVID-19, as well as the US Election, a great many people have re-engaged with the political agenda albeit mostly in the here and now.
Yet we know we cannot just leave it to the politicians. Businesses have a vital role in addressing the reality we have caused by polluting our planet. The fall out from getting that wrong will make whether we wear a mask or not pale into insignificance.
We can acquiesce to being part of our own long-term survival; I am hopeful that the signs are there that we can, as climate change is now openly talked about as a political priority around the world.
In reaching some kind of conclusion to this thought dump, I'll leave the last word to a modern activist who like Orwell stated it as it is: Greta Thunberg. "Treat the climate crisis like the acute crisis it is and give us a future."
Now, I wonder if those two would have hit it off?
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