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The age of reason

From the July 2020 issue.

Eversys’ Chief Commercial Officer Kamal Bengougam on navigating a world out of lockdown and why the truth will set us free.

“If I didn't try to assume responsibility for my own existence, it would seem utterly absurd to go on existing.” - Jean-Paul Sartre, The Age of Reason.

Many of us have developed new habits under lockdown: cultivating sourdough starters, growing vegetables (my wife), and perfecting the outline of your six-pack (not I), finding new ways to combat/adapt to this new ‘normal’. Of course, we should fight this virus with all of our strength, but do it with calm and decorum, accepting that nature’s rules do apply to us too. And that, in this age of reason, we must accept our own mortality, the fact that we are but guests on this beautiful planet coursing through time and space.

Nora from Berlin is reopening her coffee shop, Chapter One. She said in a comment that “she needed to learn to smile with her eyes” as her mouth will be hidden behind a protective mask. What a great metaphor, but I would bet that even a metal mask would fail to contain Nora’s warmth and wonderful humanity.

My wife Tracy said that life as we know it has gone on pause, a frozen frame in time and space. Whereas most stories start at the beginning and terminate at the end, transitions begin at the end of a story and create a new, fresh start. It’s a bit like night being at the end of a day ushering in the dawn, the blessing of a brand new day filled with untold possibilities.

Having been in lockdown for the best part of two months, one cannot help but spend time coursing back through time and analyse the story they find themselves in. My biggest issue is that I fail to differentiate weekdays from weekends. It just seems like a recurring continuum reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. It is just as if there was no night, just continuous daylight and, in that realm, there is no distinction, no boundaries, just an oasis-free desert, a shoreless sea.

In Jean-Paul Sartre’s book The Age of Reason, he makes a valid point that once you removed the leaves of an artichoke, you get to the naked heart, and it is in that moment, in that sober reflection, that one can begin to understand the meaning and purpose of their existence, if any. It does not have to be a failure if one focusses on hopes fulfilled as opposed to bitter regrets. In an age of reason, life does not have to be always perfect, but it must, at least, often be real.

At times like these, the truth seems to make more frequent appearances for some reason. As American philanthropist Warren Buffett once said, “it is only when the tide goes out that you may see those who have been swimming naked”. The Sage of Omaha is right – smoke and mirrors are revealing what lay behind and many things that we have taken for granted have been shown to be erroneous. Tax exiles requiring government bailouts for their fledging businesses, and so-called billionaires who seem to have been uncovered/discovered by this revealing tide. We created heroes out of sand, built castles without foundations, and worshipped celebrities with neither depth nor talent, reflecting icons of an era devoid of substance. There is truly nothing new under the sun. However, in this age of reason, truth does matter and reality can no longer just be virtual.

The truth is out there, and it does set us free. The toughest leadership test is now looming – how to bring a business back from an environment where a vaccine has yet to be found and economies are still reeling? And is a vaccine the panacea to all ills? Does it just deal with the symptoms or does it resolve the root cause? How could this pandemic happen in 2020? A time when nations seem to mainly like each other, trade within the umbrella of this global village. And then, a virus emerges from nowhere and, instead of showing unity under pressure, the world goes back into hiding, behind its historical fault lines. Were we living under false premises, a thin veil of harmony hiding massive gaps in the society we all built?

That, truth be known, under a little bit of pressure, we revert back to type and pull the duvet to within the selfish confines of our borders, the resurgence of tribalism. That globalisation was nothing more than an idealistic chimera, concocted by well-meaning politicians in search of a new world order. That, truth be told, man’s evolution may mask the fact that we hide behind an avatar, a comfortable image of a person we think the world will accept and perhaps, even like.

People are still drinking coffee but hidden away in their homes, away from friends and colleagues, like a thief in the night. It is a bit like drinking a whole bottle of wine on your own, no lasting joy just painful side effects. Coffee, like wine, is a social drink, a concoction that promotes community, and builds and encourages friendship, human interaction.

Coffee shops are far more than mere businesses, they are building blocks of society, places of learning, rejoicing, mourning, doing life with those who matter and within earshot of those that do not.

At Eversys, we have moved into a new factory with a new showroom. And, while some of its purpose is to showcase our latest technologies and designs, what I most look forward to is to share a cup of espresso with friends. This is what I miss most about this lockdown, the ability to intersect my lifeline with others, create meaningful shapes that give purpose to the passing of time on this precious planet scientists call earth, but we call home. Scientists also call this virus COVID-19 but I can think of a few other, better terms to describe this wretched thing.

An unknown poet once said: “This is the age of the half-read page, the quick hash and the mad dash, the plane hop and the brief stop. The lamp tan in a brief span, the brain strain and the heart pain. The cat nap until the spring snaps… and then the fun is gone.”

In this new age of reason, I look back on these days with sorrow in my heart. I miss these crazy days, yet I know that I should not.

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