What I’m Reading: The Lines Between Us by Lawrence Lanahan
Over the last few months, like you, it feels like I have been running a marathon without an end in sight. Since March 17, I have been working from my newly established home office while my personal and professional lives phase in and out of each other’s existence. Workdays and weekends mean nothing anymore as they flow in and out of one another’s once clearly marked boundaries. I report for work, family, and my kiddo’s school from the minute I wake up and sign off when I fall asleep. There is no distinction between the hours, days, or weeks as I complete whatever task is due at the moment. Talk about a silo-crushing event. COVID-19 has thrown my heavily compartmentalized and scheduled life into a blender.
A few weeks ago we were all struck with the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd. This shameful chapter has caused all of us to consider our role in the perpetuation of racism; to ask about use of force policies in place in our police agencies; and to reflect on how we generally as a society need to do better at understanding experiences that are different from our own.
Like you, I was called to local government to make a difference. To give a damn. To do something about the injustices and inequalities we see around us. To make the world a better place than we found it. Much of my angst about the current situation is that everything feels reactive and insufficient. My normal tactics of over-analyzing a task/issue and figuring out the next 5 steps are completely neutralized as our path forward is unclear. I live a life of duality, telling my staff to self-care by taking time off work, while checking my phone every waking moment for the next crisis.
The last few months have been soul-crushing, dire, and overwhelming as they have highlighted long-standing, systematic failures in our society. I look at my kids and wonder why aren’t we doing more? How can I look at them and say we did a good job on our watch? We know the issues – how can I tell them we didn’t have the guts to take a stand and address the inequalities in our society?
As I reflect on the events of the last several months, three movies/documentaries surface that gives me a glimmer of a path forward.
The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague. A global pandemic is probably a bad time to start binging an online lecture series about The Black Death, but hey, it was free on Amazon Prime. Dorsey Armstrong gives a fascinating overview of The Black Death and how it reshaped the world – for the better.
Had the plague not ravaged the world’s population, we wouldn’t have humanism, freedom of thought, the middle class, the end of feudalism, or hospitals. Society as we know it was FORCED to become better as a direct result of The Black Death. Through this grim chapter, public health as we know it was born.
The Dust Bowl. Again, not sure I am going in the right direction when all I seem to be watching are catastrophe films, but this documentary by Ken Burns is very interesting. This series discusses the collision of the Great Depression and the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. A quote that stuck with me was one by a gentleman named Wayne Lewis. When asked what went wrong during the Dust Bowl, he replied, “What didn’t work you tried it harder next year. You didn’t try something different, you just tried harder. The same thing that didn’t work.”
Take away here, we can’t keep trying the same solution to the same problem. If we want a different outcome, we are going to need a new approach. This dark era spurred the New Deal, the labor movement, Social Security, and one of the first environmental regulations in our nation’s history.
Jurrasic Park. Yes, the movie with the dinosaurs. The famous quote of “Life, uh, finds a way,” fills me with hope. Not only because it is true, but our locally-owned theatre put this quote on their marquee shortly after their mandatory closure. To see a small business keep their sense of humor during so much uncertainty gives me perspective on the current situation. “Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh… well, there it is.”
Life can’t be controlled or scheduled, the only thing you can control is how you respond to the circumstances you find yourself in.
Where am I going with all of this? I have no idea.
I do know that we can’t keep doing what we are doing – it will only keep us where we are today, which is unacceptable. Now is the time to lean in, dig deep, and do more. It is time to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, have the tough conversations, be teachable, and come together on how we move forward.