We are living in unprecedented times and facing a once-in-a-generation—if not once-in-a-century—global crisis. What has made this pandemic most peculiar and challenging for all of us is the fact that it has challenged every important priority in our daily lives, including our health status, economic well-being, faith, food security, interpersonal relationships with family and friends, recreation, entertainment and a sense of hope for the future.
We will come through this crisis and ideally find ourselves somewhat different as we land on the other side of it. Our priorities will change. Our appreciation for life and liberty will take on a whole new meaning. Our respect for other human beings and humanity will be heightened. And our understanding about our vulnerabilities as world citizens will sharpen our focus on the importance of international relations—as we only have one world to share.
In reflecting on the changes that I would hope to see in our world post-COVID-19, I am reminded of a recent trip to the Cleveland Botanical Garden, during which I learned, for the first time, about the baobab tree. The baobab tree, found in mainland Africa, Australia and Madagascar, is often referred to as the “Tree of Life” and is revered for its extraordinary resiliency. It provides shelter, food and water for animal and human inhabitants, and the portly trunk of the tree has deep root systems allowing it to store up to 32,000 gallons of water to protect itself from drought. The tree’s smooth, slick bark protects it from wildfires and deflects heat to limit evaporation from its pores. All the while, the tree produces leaves that are eaten as leafy vegetables, serves as an important nesting site for birds, and produces nutritious fruit and seeds. Baobab trees have been known to live for 3,000 years.
Like the baobab tree, we as a global community need to demonstrate resiliency. We need to retain faith and hope, like the baobab retains water. We need to deflect negativity, partisanship and hate—like the baobab deflects heat—and replace those with kind deeds, care and concern for others, and a renewed interest in disenfranchised people, particularly those with “pre-existing conditions” resulting from societal inequities. We all need to share the “fruits” of our labor in a way that provides health and prosperity to all of our citizens, just as the baobab feeds several forms of wildlife and people.
In his book “Bullet Journal Method,” Ryder Carroll wrote that, “No matter how bleak or menacing a situation may appear, it does not entirely own us. It can’t take away our freedom to respond, our power to take action.”
We—as corporate, community, civic, faith and political leaders—must come together to fully realize our power and our responsibility to take action. COVID-19 can’t own us if we choose to own the new normal and remain a united front.
Vice President – Public Affairs and Chief Talent Officer
This editorial originally appeared in The Plain Dealer as part of its “Cleveland after COVID-19” series, featuring perspectives from area thought leaders about what the community may look like in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.