One of the side effects of the last few weeks is that I have become hypersensitive to the behavior of those around me. It’s really interesting to note how each person responds to the stress, pressures and threats brought on by the spread of the coronavirus.
Some are in denial, others are exhibiting full blown paranoia. My wife has taken to retail therapy (mostly on random things that are unrelated to this whole fiasco).
I am totally okay with these various reactions (although I have taken to hiding the credit card) – everyone needs to deal with this situation in their own way. However, what is of more consequence is our behaviour towards one another.
I really don’t want to focus on all the shitty, selfish things that people are doing, so instead I’m going to focus on the incredible acts of humanity I have experienced this week.
The first took place in the pharmacy that I have been going to for several years. I was picking up a prescription for my daughter (unrelated virus), when I noticed a sign that said “Happy Birthday – we are 56 years old”.
I mentioned to the pharmacist on duty what an incredible achievement that was and asked her how they had managed to stay in business for more than half a century. She pointed to a grey-haired man and said; “Ask him, he started the business and still owns it.” I was about to go over to him and do just that, when a slick looking young salesman who had just entered the pharmacy got to him before me.
In a conspiratorial tone he whispered to the owner: “I’ve got 5 000 surgical masks I can sell you for R12 each. You can mark them up by whatever you want, and people will still buy them.”
The owner gave him a look that I can only describe as similar to the one my 8th grade woodwork teacher used to give me whenever he surveyed my sad attempts at craftsmanship. The what-is-wrong-with-you-man look.
“I’m not interested in your masks. I don’t believe these particular masks are effective in preventing the spread of the virus,” snapped the owner.
“Hey, it’s a demand and supply thing, and the demand is there,” countered the salesman.
“I don’t care about the demand,” said the old timer. “I’m not about to rip my customers off, especially with something I don’t believe in. That’s not the way I do business.” Then he gave him a look that said you-better-get-out-my-shop-before-I sock-you-in-the-face-sonny, and promptly stomped off.
A few seconds later I approached the owner and said simply; “I overheard that conversation. Thank you for the way you handled that. I now know why you have managed to stay in business for 56 years.”
Driving home, I actually felt quite emotional about the experience. It really crystalised for me how we should be behaving and treating each other during this dark time. Each of us faces our own seemingly enormous set of challenges, but whatever they are, there are those whose situations are far more dire. Instead of looking for ways to exploit them, it is instead our responsibility to look out for them and ensure we do everything we can to help.
So to the business owners I know who are foregoing their own salaries so that their staff can keep their jobs; to the landlords reducing or cancelling rent for vulnerable tenants, to the ordinary people who are arranging food drives to feed the children who cannot get meals at school anymore; and to the ordinary moms and dads who are doing their best to reassure their kids when they themselves are roiling inside – thank you.
What am I doing to help? Having started, built and sold one of the largest strategic communications businesses in Africa, I figure my expertise lies in helping business owners to navigate through these waters. So I am offering as many entrepreneurs as I can manage a 1x free one on one 60 minute video coaching and brainstorming session on how to play offence, rather than just defence, over the next few months.
Make no mistake, we are in a deadly game of chess with Mother Nature. Right now, she has us in check. While it is a very uncomfortable place to be, it’s not check mate yet.
I have no doubt we will eventually win this match. But equally important, when it is all over, people will remember the way in which you played the game. And so will you.