Covid blog: Kobayashi Maru
In the fictional world of the Star Trek movies, the Kobayashi Maru was a computer simulation used to teach and evaluate cadets. In the role of the captain of the starship, the cadet faced a deadly confrontation that always ended with the destruction of the ship and the deaths of the entire crew. There was no way to win, no set of decisions that could lead to a good outcome, no way to avoid complete and total catastrophe. Unavoidable failure was built into the program.
The term Kobayashi Maru has since been used to refer to situations where there is no good outcome, no possible way to get it right, no way to achieve anything except failure. Sometimes there is certain amount of relief, of comfort, in realizing that there is no way to win.
Covid-19 seems to be presenting us with unlimited opportunities for Kobayashi Maru. Shelter at home to protect your family or go back to work to pay your bills? Kobayashi Maru . Work from home effectively while also adequately homeschooling your children? Kobayashi Maru. Exercise daily in the sunshine when you live in a large apartment building with numerous surfaces you must touch to get outside? Kobayashi Maru. Prepare three nutritious meals each day for your family when grocery shopping requires logistical planning of a military campaign? Kobayashi Maru. Clean the entire house and revamp your wardrobe when you are so depressed you can barely get out of bed? Kobayashi Maru. Choose between possibly never seeing your ill, aging parent alive again or flying across country and risk exposing yourself and them to a deadly virus? Kobayashi Maru.
Of course, the larger Kobayashi Maru is how to limit the spread of the disease while keeping people employed, the economy going and society functioning. How to balance the importance of the food supply with the fact that meat packing plants have high levels of exposure among employees? Kobayashi Maru.
In life, our decisions and choices have consequences but they are not usually about life and death. Sometimes choices are clearly right or wrong but more often they are mostly right, or kind of wrong, or a little less wrong or a bit more right. If all the answers are wrong, sometimes we have to choose the least wrong option. It is rare that we face a Kobayashi Maru when every choice leads to failure.
When there is no way to get it right, what can we do? Some would say, “Do the best we can,” but even that is tricky. Our “best” may not be possible. The quarantine itself, accompanied by fear, depression, anxiety and burnout, mean that many people are struggling to do the bare minimum, let alone anything more.
Can we give ourselves permission to just do what we can, each day, each hour? Can we prioritize self care over productivity? Can we accept compromises and insufficiencies when the demands of ordinary life are impossible to meet? Can we extend grace to ourselves when the simplest of tasks are daunting or unachievable?
None of us knows when the pandemic will end. None of us know what the world will be like then. No one knows how many we will lose. But maybe, just maybe, in that new world will we will have more chances to, sometimes, get it right.
July 6, 2020