COVID-19 through the Eyes of an Innocent Ophidian: Orientation, Disorientation, Reorientation

Understanding the dynamics of change prepares us for the next disruption

There was a snake in the middle of my living room. Yes, a snake, resting comfortably on the carpet in front of the couch.

Our two dogs, guardians of the family homestead, slept blissfully on that couch, oblivious to the afternoon intruder, utter failures in their role as canine protectors.

I had just walked into the house, having finished mowing the lawn. The presence of the snake stopped me dead in my tracks.

Before I tell you what I did next, it’s important to provide some background information. I grew up in the city. My wife grew up in the country. I can count on one hand the real, live snakes I’ve seen up-close-and-personal, including this uninvited visitor. She, on the other hand, saw them almost every week on her parent’s property.

So I did what any city boy would do. I called my country girl.

“Oh, that’s easy,” my beautiful bride assured me. “Just pick up the snake and carry it out to the yard. Everything will be fine.”

“Who are you?” I replied. “The spawn of Satan? What person in his right mind picks up a snake?” Which brought a surprising end to our phone conversation.

So I came up with a plan. I went to the shed and got a shovel. Swinging open the front door and latching the screen door in place, I crouched down in our entranceway, poised to quickly scoop up the snake, race out of the house, and hurl it in the air as far away as possible.

And that’s exactly what I did, never even waking up our pathetic dogs.

Imagine being that innocent ophidian. One minute, you’re resting comfortably. The next minute, you’re flying in the air and landing in a patch of rose bushes.

That’s been our experience the last few months with COVID-19. We were warm and cozy on plush carpet, then our whole world was disrupted. Now, we’re settling into a new reality. Orientation. Disorientation. Reorientation.

This happened after 9/11 as well. Orientation. Disorientation. Reorientation. It also happened after the financial meltdown of 2008. What can we learn from these crises?

Orientation: Comfortable But Dangerous

Although it doesn’t feel like it, sleeping on plush carpet is not a safe place to be. It’s not the carpet so much as the sleeping that does us in. In our torpor, we become numb to the world around us and susceptible to its dangers.

Perhaps that’s what settled upon us before the COVID-19 crisis. Most certainly concerning the spread of viruses and their diseases, but also other things, like the vulnerability of our aging seniors, the critical need for nurses and checkout clerks, the enormous challenge it is to teach children, the fragility of our economic system, and the comfort of a hug from a friend.

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Our most menacing moments occur when we’re the most comfortable. As human beings, we crave being safe and secure. That’s our nature, and that is fine. Problems present themselves, however, when we take safety and security a step too far, when we fall asleep and falsely assume that tranquility will last forever. Tranquility, this side of eternity, doesn’t last forever.

Vigilance. That’s what we need. Not the fear of constant threat, for that’s not vigilance but neurotic anxiety. Vigilance is an awareness of one’s surroundings and a readiness to meet whatever challenges that may arise. Because challenges will arise. History, even our most recent record of it, teaches us that a new disruption is just around the corner.

Disorientation: Uncomfortable But Beneficial

Flying through the air, hurled by the shovel of an insane homeowner, is distinctly uncomfortable. But necessary.

Discomfort opens our minds to new ways of thinking and introduces us to new ways of being. Discomfort breaks the habits that trap us into doing the same thing in the same way ad nauseam and forces us to act differently, like individual performers singing as one choir on Zoom and families learning how to bake bread together instead of buying it from the store.

I remember my first sales job. I had never sold anything in my adult life and was hired to replace a thirty year, commercial radio sales veteran. He politely introduced me to his accounts and promptly walked into the sunset of retirement. I was on my own after a mere few weeks.

In the throes of this extreme discomfort, I bought every book on sales I could find. Some of what I read was rubbish, but some of it was pure gold. I quickly discovered which was which as I applied what I was learning on daily sales calls, sometimes winning and sometimes failing badly.

But I kept going.

I still cringe at the memory of those awkward months, but, man, did I ever learn how to sell. Ultimately, I succeeded in the profession far beyond what I thought was possible, still teaching to this day some of those early lessons.

Yes, discomfort is at the heart of disorientation, but so is discovery and personal development. That’s the benefit discomfort bestows.

Reorientation: Difficult But Achievable

And finally we land. Perhaps in bushes with thorns, but we land nevertheless.

The COVID-19 crisis will come to an end. Businesses will reopen. School will resume. Churches will gather again. Our days will return to normal. Or what we should really call it, a new normal.

Reorientation will be difficult, but it’s achievable. The challenges we face are similar to the ones generations before us faced after past pandemics, previous wars, and devastating economic implosions. This is where we, as a human race, are at our finest. This is what brings out our very best.

So let’s get ready to go to work and transform our world all over again. And when we reach that place of comfort, let’s enjoy it, not falling asleep like my hapless hounds, because a new kind of disorientation will arrive all too soon.

But when that happens, we’ll be better prepared, armed with an understanding of the dynamics of disruptive change.


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