The COVID-19 Virus is an Opportunity to Reboot More than Our Economy

California State Treasurer Fiona Ma discusses the power of social responsibility and teamwork to restore the economy.

COVID-19 has sparked an urge in each of us to seek meaning and significance in our lives—lives that have been profoundly affected by a disease we know so little about and which seems to perplex too many of us.  

Defeating the effect of the virus on our economy will require teamwork—perhaps at a level that we have not required of ourselves in recent history. 

But, what does the teamwork we desperately need at this moment really look like? Undoubtedly, it must reflect a rethinking of our social values and demonstrate that the common good of our fellow citizens is our shared value. It also needs a renewed sense of the incredible power we have as humans to accomplish unimaginable things, if we bring effective teamwork to bear on the vexing problems we face in the moment. 

Consider teamwork in nature. A hive of honey bees can consist of tens of thousands of individuals, each with a specific role to play and all focused on the preservation of the hive and the propagation of the species. 

The structure of the work in the beehive is both ordered and hierarchical. Each bee is hard-wired by Mother Nature to perform a specific task that contributes to the common good. 

In our American culture, we are deeply steeped in a rugged individualism that is uniquely our own. We struggle to accept the idea that we need to work together and cooperate with one another in order to achieve lasting results that benefit all of us a society. Yet, our society is experiencing a common vulnerability to an enemy that we cannot see, but which brings the potential of life-altering illness to each of us. 

In the COVID-19 driven world, we chafe at stay at home orders and not being able to go to the hairdresser’s. We lament the loss of life we see each day on the news, but retreat into a “it can’t happen to me” mindset. That needs to change. Plenty of hierarchy, not much order. 

The perspective we should embrace should be understood to be part of the higher goal of promoting the common good, just like the beehive. Success in the beehive is not measured by individual accomplishments, but by the success of the hive itself. Our economy is the beehive. 

Performing these activities will require agreement to a common purpose—defeating the virus—and willingness to place the common good ahead of the transitory detrimental effects on our economy.

This view or perspective is common in human activities that require teamwork, whether in sports, business, or government. Success in these fields is not overly impressed with individual accomplishments. 

As an elected office holder, I know that I must work individually to convince the voters and my constituents that I am up to the tasks they elect me to do. I also know that none of us can discharge such duties responsibly without developing highly functioning teams where individuals work well with one another in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.  

There is an oft-quoted African proverb that states “It takes a village to raise a child.” The fundamental meaning of this dictum is that it is not enough to simply work together toward a shared goal—we must also have a deeply embedded sense of purpose about why we share that goal and why the goal is important. 

Defeating the coronavirus will require a bundle of activities, including greater testing, development of a vaccine, and contact tracing, to name only a few. Performing these activities will require agreement to a common purpose—defeating the virus—and willingness to place the common good ahead of the transitory detrimental effects on our economy. Hardly an easy choice. But, an equally large prize is the healing of our economy. 

Acceptance of our collective social responsibility and the effective application of it to activities that promote the common good is the essence of our form of government. Promoting the common good, through public safety and social welfare is our common goal. That is what drew me to seek elective office and which guides me each day in my work. These principles must be applied to healing our economy quickly and effectively, once the immediate crisis of the pandemic passes. 

Confidence in our various units of government has eroded over the past number of years, often with good reason. That situation presents us with an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the common good—a heathy society with a vibrant economy. 

Far too often our public servants disappoint, frustrate, or even deceive us. Those experience are as old as mankind. To accept these infirmities in a defeatist attitude however is to provide oxygen to the air that catastrophic events like the pandemic need to defeat our spirit. 

We distinguish ourselves as persons and as government officials when we renew our commitment to a purpose and structure of the public’s welfare. At no time in recent history has this been more critical than it is now. Public service, when understood in the context of this collective responsibility is to be admired, not distrusted or maligned. Teamwork fulfills the purpose. Teamwork will restore our economy. 

The pandemic will demand that both the public and private sectors pivot to this new way of doing things. If we succumb to the temptation to go back to doing our daily activities the way we have always done them in the past, then we shouldn’t be surprised if we don’t get the outcomes we seek. 

On the other hand, a renewed emphasis on developing and supporting highly functioning teams will give us the opportunity to hone our skills, better serve our customers and stakeholders, and arrive at a better place in our relations with one another. The result: a restored economy that enables each of to realize our dreams, support our families, and flourish—and, to enjoy good health. 

The stakes are too high to try this individually.