Mar 4, 2020 by

We are currently in the eye of the storm with the coronavirus (COVID-19) causing a health and economic pandemic across the globe. The disease has spread throughout China and to 40 other countries and territories, including the United States As of February 23, 2020, there were 76,936 reported cases in mainland China and 1,875 cases in locations outside mainland China with nearly 3,000 dead. 

Global economic markets are tumbling with the Dow having its largest drop in a single day recorded this past week. 

Business, markets and governments hate uncertainty and this virus, originating in Wuhan China has washed over the globe bringing destruction and a questionable future. Fear and uncertainty are fueling anxiety and panic around the world.  

The Stock Market ended it worst week since the economic meltdown of 2008 and there is a drum beat of gloom flashing economic turmoil ahead with near panic infused fear that it could get much worse before it gets better. 

All our global as well as domestic efforts are now focused on what is a  refrain from the chattering class on cable news pontificating  saying, “we are hoping for the best as we prepare for the worst.”

Made In China

Clearly there were mistakes made in China where local leaders initially down played the problem as well as other errors at home and abroad that have shaped the crisis that is unfolding now. In the future there will be scientists, health officials and poli-scientists and science fiction writers penning books and dissertations to cash in on what went wrong. I will leave it it history to sort out how we arrived at this intersection of history. 

Yet, as a former state superintendent of public education in Michigan I have begun to reflect on the lessons we should learn from the coronavirus crisis and potential global catastrophe

The Coronavirus has bought some truths home: 

  • Science matters. Hope and prays while welcome are not going to solve this problem.
  • Facts matter. There is a time and place for political spin- this is not one of them.
  • Transparency matters. We need our government and health leaders to keep us informed, good, bad and ugly.
  • Truthfulness matters. In a era where the Groucho Marx line, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lying eyes” has become a standard punchline, we must demand the truth.
  • Preparedness matters. Budget cuts and hiring freezes in federal departments are often hidden from the public view— until they aren’t. There are many key positions in critical public health and homeland security roles that are vacant- and it shows  
  • Trust matters. When at least half of American citizens don’t trust the POTUS in good times, Houston, we have a crisis in tough times. 
  • Leadership matters. At a time when we should be rallying around the flag to protect our nation from this foreign invasion we are splintered and divided. As Abe Lincoln reminded us at a perilous time in our history, a house divided against itself will not stand. 
  • Health matters. My grandma would always tell me, “Without your health, you have nothing.” I now understand grandma.  
  • What happens in China does not stay in China. Going forward, all global issues will intersect at the corner of Beijing and Washington, D.C. How are respective leaders manage and lead these issues will impact the people of China, America and all of humanity as we are witnessing today.
  • Tribalism and nationalism are on a rise- but we need to grasp, we are all in this together as we continue to be reminded, we live in an interconnected world where walls  won’t prevent health or economic pandemic. We can’t drill holes in the other side of the boat we are sharing and not expect it to sink us all
  • In an interconnected world, we need to build bridges – not erect walls or dig moats to survive and thrive

Global problems. Problems like the coronavirus, climate change, water scarcity, ignorance, poverty, nuclear proliferation require a collective unified, coordinated collaborative response.

We can avert catastrophes we know are coming our way, if we have the courage to upset the status quo. We cannot survive in the 21st century without casting off the anchors of the past that are holding us in frozen in place. 

We need leaders willing to lead for their nation, and all of humanity.

Survival is a great motivator. We need to stop with a See-Saw mentality where one nation must  be down for the other to be up and come to realize we are on this planet together. 

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Will we learn these lessons?

Tom Watkins is a former Michigan state superintendent of schools, state mental health director and President and CEO of the economic council of Palm Beach County, Fl. Currently he serves as China partner and managing director of WAY American Schools. He has been traveling, working and writing about China for nearly 4 decades. His focus is on building cultural, educational and economic ties between our two nations. This bilateral relationship is the most important relationship in the world today. All major world issues will intersect at the corner of Beijing anD Washington, DC.

Reads other China thoughts here: Tom Watkins – CHINA US Focus

And here: The People’s Republic of China Turns 70- A 30 Year Look Back 

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