At all times, but even more when problems blow up (a crisis being a huge, traumatic explosion), we need to worry about what reality shows, understand the logic of what goes on, and strive to transform the dynamics leading to the problems we have decided to face.Becoming preoccupied implies to be pre-occupied. That is, paying attention and taking certain preventive measures in relation to a threatening situation before circumstances force us to meet challenges on the fly. That would compel us to act without the time required to weigh the complexity of any situation or to identify possible options with a clear idea of the implications and consequences of each one of them in terms of impact, costs, sense, and projection. Developing the ability to anticipate possible outcomes is indicative of the maturity of individuals and organizations.
Being preoccupied is not synonymous with becoming afraid although they may well rise together. Feeling a certain degree of fear when we imagine what might happen if we do not act on time is often a necessary ingredient for actors to mobilize and become pre-occupied about something that is announcing turbulence. Becoming pre-occupied may also help visualize that there are opportunities coming up on the horizon, and that it would be good if we figured out how we can access them.
A very different thing is panic, because in such a state, reason becomes blurred, urgencies swirl, affecting proper decision-making. When panic takes over (often stirred by some spurious interests), we become herds fleeing in terror, making things even worse. That every-man-for-himself attitude corners solidarity and gags compassion.
At times of crises or turbulence, it is critical to understand what happens. Not only confirming the evident, the effects of what is happening, but also identifying the underlying processes that have generated the situation: what forces are at play, how they relate and become intertwined, what the resulting dynamics is, what intervention points are available, how feasible each type of intervention is, and what their implications and consequences are.
Understanding is a complex process because it depends on a variety of factors. To begin with, the information about what goes on is always partial, incomplete and, hence, imperfect. But even with such limitations and restrictions, striving to understand what happens is worth the while.
In addition, to interpret what happens we resort to different combinations of concepts, theories, values, ideologies, references from “specialists” and personal experiences. This translates into the fact that, when faced with one same reality, there coexist different perspectives and interpretations of what happens and why it happens.
Adding one further level of complexity, the way each one sees, attempts to understand, and faces reality is based on and, at the same time, “tinged” by ones’ own interests, needs and emotions. It is a way of describing and admitting that a subjective bias, an inevitable deformation of our vision, always slips in, undermining our capacity to fully understand the processes shaping reality.
Philosophy, psychology and other fields of knowledge have reflected and debated since ancient times about the limits and relations between objectivity and subjectivity, about absolute and relative truths. Economic and political analysis is far from escaping these conditioning factors and, thus, we must be aware of the imperfections bearing on our capacity to understand and on the means we use to transform what is happening. On top of all that, the linearity that seemingly emerges from the “becoming preoccupied, understanding, transforming” sequence does not occur in reality and, therefore, what might be of help in certain phases and aspects is ultimately difficult and even unsuitable to be firmly observed.
Does this mean that we cannot have a thorough understanding of what happens and act rationally? As a matter of fact, yes and no at the same time, which is a way of acknowledging that we must be prudent in relation to our perception of what goes on, even though we need to develop one to guide our decisions. Certainly, this notion is not intended to encourage getting carried away by developments or ignoring implications until we are overwhelmed by problems and end up collapsing. However, in the face of the many intervening factors which condition the making of appropriate decisions, it might be good if we gathered different viewpoints about what happens and why it happens; that would be a pragmatic way of enriching our understanding and rendering the resulting intervention more effective. Conversely, accepting a uniform, single viewpoint, the preeminence of views enforced by the power rather than by the wisdom of those expressing them, entails real risks of becoming bias when describing the very essence of processes and, hence, compromising the efficacy of the solutions adopted.
In the face of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, extreme cold spells or heat waves, we cannot but protect ourselves; be prepared —become pre-occupied— to mitigate their destructive effects as well as, by acting with environmental responsibility, refrain from destroying environmental balances so as not to enlarge through our own action the impact of some of these natural phenomena.
The case of economic phenomena is very different because, even though conditioned by environmental dynamics, they result from processes designed and managed by individuals or individual-created organizations. Thus, when thinking about and acting in the social reality, particularly in the “markets” (at local, national and global levels), what is at stake is the above-mentioned set of interests, needs, emotions, values, ideologies, theories, concepts, available information which is always partial, incomplete and imperfect.
With that load in our backpacks we have to decide what action to take. One first big watershed is whether we choose to transform what is needed in our way of functioning so as to alter the underlying dynamics that brings about instability, or whether we choose to orient our efforts towards restoring what was in existence before problems appeared, thus preserving the prevalent way of functioning.
If the changes that, inevitably and permanently, occur in our societies are ignored and the necessary course corrections or adjustments are not made, there will come a time when the disconnection will render the way of functioning unviable and deep transformations will be required to be able to cope with the magnitude of the problems kept at bay. If, conversely, society as a whole lucidly and maturely accompanies the social and economic dynamics with small yet constant adjustments, the resulting transformation will be accomplished smoothly, without traumatic effects.
What exists is transformed based on and with what exists although, obviously, relations have to be reorganized so that new courses can be adopted. Wiping out all what is in existence entails high costs and risks that are rarely fully estimated. Even though transformation is generally necessary, this does not imply that everything that is in existence is worthless, meaningless and useless.
Becoming pre-occupied about our circumstances and searches, understanding the substrate of what happens and the way it shows on the surface, generating referential utopias that can be widely shared, adjusting the course with prudence and judgment, transforming social and personal dynamics, maintaining the course with sense and meaning, are milestones marking the construction of more promising paths.