“There is a mysterious cycle in human events,” the New York Governor told the 1936 Democratic National Convention. “To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” That governor was Franklin D. Roosevelt. The future president’s words have special meaning in the era of Covid19.
Today, we are facing our own rendezvous with destiny.
President Roosevelt also coined the term The Arsenal of Democracy as America began to realize the extent of the threat Adolf Hitler posed in Europe. It became symbolic of the United States’ resolve to retool and re-imagine how to defeat an enemy who threatened our very existence.
We are now at war with a powerful enemy. It attacks with stealth. It knows our weaknesses, both physical and psychological. And it has the potential to kill more of us than all US casualties in every war, combined.
Like America in the months before Pearl Harbor, we largely ignored the threat. What was happening “over there” didn’t directly impact us.
Now it has. And we need to rethink every aspect of our lives to confront the new reality.
This massive adaptation to what is essentially a wartime footing presents opportunities to learn from the past and leverage the brilliance and innovation that exists in the Internet age.
How do we protect our health?
Some common themes have coalesced around this question. Accept the value of a temporary self quarantine, to give a strained health care infrastructure the capacity to serve the afflicted. Concentrate on the fundamentals of prevention: Washing hands regularly and properly, avoid touching your face to minimize the transmission of germs to your body through the eyes, nose and mouth, and isolating yourself from others if you feel sick.
How do we adapt our careers?
Growing up, my dad always snapped a salute in the direction of Willow Run, whenever we passed the exit to the suburban Detroit airport on Interstate 94. “That,” he said again and again, “Is the home of the Arsenal of Democracy”. When war came, our industries morphed from building automobiles and refrigerators to turning out tanks and aircraft. Today, there are signs that the automakers will do it again. Recognizing the frightening shortage of ventilators, General Motors and Ford are studying how to re-purpose their resources to fill this critical need.
Refilling the supply chain with everything from gloves, gowns and masks for doctors and nurses to basic and temporarily scarce staples that consumers desire is an opportunity for our long dormant manufacturing infrastructure to find a renaissance. Leveraging the lightning agility of the tech start-up mentality to fast track vaccines and better understand our corona adversary is something that is within our grasp.
Getting the basics to consumers is on the minds of every business, from restaurants and grocery stores to on-line retail giants like Amazon, who recently announced that they are hiring tens of thousands of people to respond to the demand for home delivery.
Initially reticent educational institutions have been forced into the distance learning space to keep knowledge flowing into the minds of home-bound students. Jobs that once required an office commute have had to evolve into professions that can be performed remotely.
In every instance, those who thrive will be those who can adapt.
Corona is forcing many of us outside of our uncomfortable comfort zones and into the space where creative solutions can literally make us rich. Thinking about how to add value in a radically different world will be crucial to career marketability.
How do we keep the faith?
In the darkest hours of The War, America was sustained by two things: Hope and Faith.
Despite the usual political divisions, the nation was united in pursuit of victory. The country endured every inconvenience and carried unimaginable burdens with faith that we would prevail.
As the last of the Greatest Generation passes on, so, too passes the institutional knowledge of living history day-to-day. The early years of America’s involvement in World War II were marked with setbacks and failure. It took time to get industry up to speed with the needs of a nation in conflict. Mobilizing hundreds of thousands of soldiers required months of training, even as the infrastructure to deploy them was still being developed.
To minimize the devastation of Covid19, we must adapt much more quickly, tossing ideas that don’t work to the curb with greater speed and parallel processing multiple solutions at the same time.
Abundance and leisure will have to take a back seat to hard work and sacrifice. In a way, corona is forcing us to focus on the very foundations of the American Dream: Hope plus vision plus discipline plus action equal achievement. Leave any one of the four fundamentals out of the mix and we can fail. Bring all four to bear and success is inevitable.
I still treasure the medals my father earned in the Second World War. They are an arms length from me as I type this message. I study them often as a reminder of the sacrifice his generation made so that we might have the chance to chase our own definitions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But he never talked about them. He never talked much about The War at all. He spoke in a much more powerful way, by focusing lessons learned about hope, faith and perseverance to help address today’s greatest need.
Every generation has its “rendezvous with destiny“. We now know that ours is upon us. How we respond can lead to travail or transcendence. May we commit to the latter, so that future generations will read about our exploits and echo Winston Churchill, saying, “This was their finest hour.”