Not that long ago, it felt like everything was going our way. It suddenly changed when the pandemic brought a new reality and an uncertain future to absorb. Arnold Bennett’s classic “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day” reminds us to use our precious time; the Daily Miracle, to adapt, live, and learn.
The Daily Miracle
The pandemic’s impact affects all of us, our loved ones, and the community. There are plenty of unknowns; how many will become ill or die, when will we go back to work, or school? How will we adapt to it all?
In the midst of change, some things never change. Bennett’s book, written in 1910, came to grips over a century ago with the timeless question: How can we adapt to make the best use of our lives and time?
The book is only thirty-five pages long and full of wisdom and humor. He describes the Daily Miracle this way:
“Philosophers have explained space. They have not explained time. It is the inexplicable raw material of everything. With it, all is possible; without it, nothing. The supply of time is truly a Daily Miracle, an affair genuinely astonishing when one examines it.”
You wake up in the morning with twenty-four hours deposited exclusively for your use. No one can take the time from you unless you let them, and no one receives more or less than you.
Today’s allotment of time is reserved exclusively for you. There is no punishment if you waste it. It is never withheld. Further, you can not borrow your future time, so it is impossible to get in debt.
However, once it is gone, it is lost forever. You can’t recover unused time or save it for tomorrow.
Two thousand years earlier, Lucius Seneca, a Roman philosopher, and statesman agreed when he wrote:
“Let us, therefore, set out whole-heartedly, leaving aside our many distractions and exert ourselves in this single purpose, before we realize too late the swift and unstoppable flight of time and are left behind. As each day arises, welcome it as the very best day of all, and make it your own possession. We must seize what flees.” – Seneca, Moral Letters
If asked tomorrow what you did with your Daily Miracle, do you really want to say nothing much?
The Black Swan
We expect swans to be white, so a Black Swan sighting defines an extraordinary event.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes a Black Swan as a highly improbable event with three characteristics: It is unpredictable; it has a massive impact; and, we find ways to explain them later that makes it appear less random, and more predictable than it was.
In his Best Selling Book, “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” Taleb explains why we don’t acknowledge Black Swans until after they occur.
Part of the answer is humans are hardwired to learn specifics rather than focus on generalities. He also studied how we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we actually do. And, we restrict our thinking to the irrelevant and inconsequential.
We go on auto-pilot and let significant events, like this pandemic, surprise us. The pandemic was called a Black Swan, but it is not. Bill Gates, the World Health Organization, and others warned us for years.
Taleb agrees and one of his valuable messages is history does not always prepare us for the future.
The world has experienced many pandemics, among them: Cholera in 1817, the Plague in 1855, The Spanish Flu in 1918, Asian flu in 1957, HIV/AIDS 1981, Swine flu in 2009, just to name a few. And the seasonal flu shot provides an up-close and personal reminder of virus epidemics every year.
So, why wasn’t the world better prepared for this pandemic? Where was the Center for Disease Control’s pandemic playbook or the stockpile of masks and other medical supplies?
We were unprepared because, as a nation, we were on auto-pilot.
Turkeys on Auto-pilot
Still, we can be optimistic because, more than a half-century ago, we rose to the challenge of discovering many vaccines. Scientists developed vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, polio, smallpox, chickenpox, and others.
Science is much further advanced today, and there is a worldwide effort underway with plenty of funding.
Today the best scientists in the world are sharing technology, pharmaceutical competitors are co-operating, and regulators are supportive. They’re up to the challenge, no doubt, they just need more time.
Taleb makes another critical point; Black Swan events are dependent on the observer.
He uses turkeys as an example. The farmer always feeds his turkeys, and the turkeys believe he’s a kind man who cares deeply for his turkeys. But the turkeys get a rude awakening when Thanksgiving arrives, and something unexpected happens to them.
It is a Black Swan event for the turkeys but not the farmer. How do we identify our own areas of vulnerability to avoid being a turkey? We must go off of auto-pilot to prepare for the unexpected.
Things In and Out of Your Control
The Coronavirus pandemic brought stay-at-home policies, social distancing, business closures, and job losses. Therapies for those ill with the virus and vaccines to prevent the spread are desperately needed. These are out of your control.
However, you can stay informed and watch out for yourself and others close to you. You can identify these and other things that are in your control, and get to work on them.
Beyond that, there is no value spending your Daily Miracle worrying about things over which you have no control.
For example, you can help protect your family from catching or spreading the virus. Encourage simple things like stay at home, wash hands frequently, practice social distancing, and wear face masks.
They are small steps, and they are important. Those steps could save a family member or strangers life. You probably will never know you helped save a life, but knowing is not essential.
You saved a life and did something for the greater good. And, you encourage others to do the same by setting an example. During trouble, we look to each other to help us get through it.
Leverage Your Gifts for Others
Our ancestors made choices to sacrifice for us while enduring their own crises. They gave us food through modern farming, transportation, education, medicine, a better standard of living, and a longer life span.
These gifts are available for our benefit through their efforts and sacrifices. They all started with a small step that probably seemed insignificant at the time. However, those steps and achievements compound over time into amazing gifts for future generations.
It is now our turn to leverage the gifts they gave us and pay them forward.
Nassim Taleb describes another great gift of all in the last paragraph of his book.
“I am sometimes taken aback by how people can have a miserable day or get angry because they feel cheated by a bad meal, cold coffee, a social rebuff or a rude reception. We are quick to forget that just being alive is an extraordinary piece of good luck, a remote event, a chance of occurrence of monstrous proportions. Imagine a speck of dust next to a planet a billion times the size of earth. The speck of dust represents the odds in favor of your being born; the huge planet would be the odds against it. So stop sweating the small stuff. Don’t be like the ingrate who got a castle as a present and worried about the mildew in the bathroom. Stop looking at the gift horse in the mouth – remember you are a Black Swan.”
You are here for a Reason
Taleb reminds us of the remote odds even being here; “you are a Black Swan.” Bennett reminds us of the Daily Miracle we get every day. Our ancestors sacrificed for us so we could have a better life than they inherited.
It is your time. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life. Take one small step to get your act together while you have the time. Show up, and throw yourself into the present. Start with what’s in front of you. Set an example, and inspire others for the greater good.
You are here for a reason.
1. Start with yourself. Go off auto-pilot and re-calibrate yourselves with clear thinking, determination, hope, and love.
2. Use the Daily Miracle to become the very best version of yourself. Make a list of the small steps you will take. Commit to your action plan.
3. Look to your friends, family, and ancestors. They all take their small steps that compounded over a lifetime and make big differences. All it takes is little things: start by making your bed in the morning, read a book, shop for a neighbor that can’t get out, call someone that is lonely.
4. Follow the golden rule. “Treat others as you want to be treated.” Your small things count too. Do anything good. You will inspire others to do the same.
5. Show gratitude. Say thank you or send a note of appreciation to those doing the right things. It encourages more of the same.
Now, imagine yourself in the future thinking back to this time, or any time for that matter. How will you feel about who you were? Did you get lost in fear and anxiety? Or, did you seize the moment?
“We never shall have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is. It is the realisation of this profound and neglected truth (which, by the way, I have not discovered) that has led me to the minute practical examination of daily time-expenditure.”
– Arnold Bennett
Please stay healthy and safe.
Thanks for reading!