In Search of The Silver Lining, Part – 1: Hopelessness
In Search of The Silver Lining, Part – 1: Hopelessness

In Search of The Silver Lining, Part – 1: Hopelessness

What do you do when you find yourself in an unwinnable position? When your opponent is a mighty mountain? Utterly immovable. Or in a situation akin to Sisyphus’, condemned to pushing a rock to the top of the mountain, when you’re finally almost there it just rolls back down again.

Imagine Eric LeMarque trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at over 11,500 feet for eight days, saying to himself: “There is absolutely no way I could ever get out of here.”

Imagine 27-year-old climber Aron Ralston, trapped against a rock while climbing the narrow canyons of Utah. Instead of cutting through his arm with a blunt knife, thinking: “It’s impossible to free my arm from this boulder. I’m utterly helpless in this situation.  I should just surrender to my fate.”

Consuming news, articles and predictions on global economic and employment prospects in the COVID-19 era has become as natural as eating or brushing one’s teeth.  An entrepreneur would wonder: “What are the chances of survival in a mammoth global recession whose depth was surpassed only by the two World Wars and the Great Depression over the past century and a half”. Someone looking for a job would think: “How am I ever going to find a job in these conditions? How am I going to pay my bills and support my family?

The World Bank’s Flagship Report, Global Economic Prospects – January, 2021 expresses what has become a universally accepted fact that “Governments, households, and firms all need to embrace a changed economic landscape”. A landscape that we are alien to but necessitates immediate action, planning and adapting while experiencing it for the first time with much to understand and analyse. “Uncertainty about the post-pandemic economic landscape and policies has discouraged investment; disruptions to education have slowed human capital accumulation; and concerns about the viability of global value chains and the course of the pandemic have weighed on international trade”. The pandemic “is expected to leave long-lasting adverse effects on global economic activity and per capita incomes and unless there are substantial and effective reforms, the global economy is heading for a decade of disappointing growth outcomes.”

As for regional prospects, the report continues “although all regions are expected to grow this year, the pace of the recovery varies considerably, with greater weakness in countries that have larger outbreaks or greater exposure to global spillovers through tourism and industrial commodity exports”….reading on….solid rebound in China on account of which the East Asia and Pacific region is envisioned to show notable strength in 2021…then zooming in on the Middle East…“whereas activity is projected to be weakest in the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa regions. Many countries are expected to lose a decade or more of per capita income gains.”

The ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Seventh edition updated estimates and analysis released 25th January, 2021 reports that “in contrast to previous crises, by far most of the global employment loss in 2020 translated into rising inactivity rather than unemployment, leading to an additional 81 million people shifting to inactivity alongside 33 million unemployed. Many people who wished to have a job became inactive because they could not see any opportunity to search for a job successfully, or they were simply unable to do so owing to the COVID-19 restrictions.”

The World Bank’s booklet, Overview Reversals of Fortune, Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020 projected that in 2020, between 88 and 115 million people could fall back into extreme poverty, with an additional increase between 23 and 35 million in 2021, potentially bringing the total number of new people living in extreme poverty to between 110 and 150 million.

But it was a phrase from an article in Bloomberg Wealth that prompted my search for the silver lining – Wallstreet Visionaries Provide Chilling Views on Next Big Risk: “When you take away from people the hope to realize their potential, that is the epitome of despair” said Eileen Murray former co-CEO, Bridgewater Associates. She expects that “the next pandemic that’s coming is the displacement of the workforce [that’s] not being trained to participate in the economy. Dealing with that will take a lot more than a vaccine. The unskilled worker is the next pandemic.”

This concern is not only for the American workforce but for the peoples of the world. There has been global concern for years over the changing dynamics of what we do, how we do it, how advances in technology will affect the future of work, and what can we do to address workforce displacement through upskilling. In the must-read article by Albert Bandura, Growing Primacy of Human Agency in Adaptation and Change in the Electronic Era, he analyses these transformational changes, the codetermining sociostructural factors and the role of perceived personal and collective efficacy.

Although the words “mass unemployment” immediately focused my attention, but it was the despair part that I couldn’t get out of my head. Man’s very existence depends on oxygen, food, water and hope. One can survive without food for some time, but not without hope. Thinking of hopelessness on a mass scale is just unimaginable. With my daily diet of articles and reports, “learned helplessness” kept occurring. Although I had formerly accepted that theory as fact but when this coincided with a personal transition through a dark passage underlining the hope, drive, motivation and agency themes, it called for a re-examination of ideas, theories and beliefs especially with widely available evidence to the contrary.  

What follows is neither an analysis, critique nor an opinion. It’s following a thread of thought that started over a couple of weeks ago, to wherever it leads. The link between reward and motivation in Part – 2 is not a destination but only highlighted for its potential value as to how it pertains to concepts firmly accepted by some as the entire perspective, when it may be only part of it. Man has been narrating his story on a loop for centuries but sometimes it may get lost in translation.

Until then, the only answer I know to “What do you do when you find yourself in an unwinnable position?” It is unequivocally….You fight like hell.

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

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