By Tim Hayes
Years ago, as each of the kids learned to drive, we shared some thrilling experiences together, as most parents and their offspring do. One evening, after a maiden solo voyage with the car, our young driver came home clutching a torn sheet of paper, which read in angry scribble:
LEARN HOW TO PARK, NIMROD.
Seems our kid had overshot the painted line in a restaurant parking lot by more than a little, and the adjacent driver took umbrage to the slight, expressing his feelings in a note shoved under the windshield wiper of our vehicle. That piece of paper remains pinned to a bulletin board in one of the upstairs bedrooms to this day, a chuckle-inducing part of family legend.
Speaking metaphorically, the lines in a parking lot bring order to what otherwise could be chaos. In the service of a business, they also help to maximize the number of customers able to patronize the establishment. They have been systematically planned to achieve a prioritized purpose.
Without guidelines – whether painted on asphalt, written in a formalized plan, or generally accepted in society – people and events can spiral, spinning, wobbling, bumping and crashing. Order becomes more difficult to maintain. Manageable problems bloom into major, less-manageable crises.
When people are left to their own devices in an emergency, decisions immediately lock onto self-preservation. Hoarding of supplies. Neglect of the less-fortunate or less-able to fend for themselves. It’s “Lord of the Flies” writ large.
A nation of nimrods, you might say.
And all for a lack of prudent, forward-looking, assertive planning, driven by a willingness to let the experts take the wheel, trusting in data and science to offer a clear vision, and joining ranks across any political or philosophical divides to protect all people.
Any doubt as to whether rational adults have faith in the leadership of our government to adequately deal with the current pandemic quickly evaporated into the mist, the morning after a seven-minute scripted speech from the Oval Office, when the stock market immediately crashed by more than 2,300 points, losing 10% of its value.
The stock market can always find the proper path, when it has facts and reason from which to evaluate a situation. The Dow shouted, in no uncertain terms this past week, that it has close to zero confidence it will receive such a grounded base of information from the government in Washington, DC.
All of which leads the rest of us to rely on state governors, local mayors and other municipal leaders, doctors and other experts in these diseases, business executives, school administrators, and others with the knowledge, rationality, courage, and confidence to make the difficult decisions. Declaration of a national emergency opens the door to significant resources and funding, true, and is appreciated. But why does it feel that this level of response at the federal level unnecessarily took weeks to arrive?
Just the other day, while picking up some items at a favorite local Italian market, another illustration of what we have been missing in this larger national and international emergency occurred.
This neighborhood market is chock-full, floor to ceiling, with innumerable products, but the building itself is quite small. That makes each aisle virtually a one-way street, since it’s too tight to squeeze past another person going the other way. The single checkout station can occasionally pose a similar conundrum, as it did on my recent visit.
One customer stood at the register, another person waited behind her. Then, lines began to form along three separate aisles, snaking back into the rest of the store. A fellow behind me said, “Is this the line to check out, or is it that one? Or is it THAT one?”
“All of the above,” I replied.
A lady in a separate backup line heard our exchange and said, “This gentleman” – pointing to me – “is next, then me, then this lady, then you. That’s the plan, anyway.” To which another voice from behind a stack of tomato puree cans responded, “At least we HAVE a plan!” causing laughs all around.
Yes, at least we had a plan. It made sense. It kept order. It even brought a smile. We had escaped nimrod-ness together.
The true, trusted leaders in this coronavirus crisis have begun to emerge and assert themselves. Plans are taking shape, better late than never. Too bad those plans, those leaders, have not been reliably rising from the places we would otherwise – in more normal times – turn.
Copyright 2020 Timothy P. Hayes