Purpose and Hope in a Time of TurmoilDiscovery Institute President Steve Buri reflects on the mission of the organization in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic
During a recent staff meeting, two Discovery Institute staff members referenced C.S. Lewis’s essay, On Living in the Atomic Age. In this new era of coronavirus uncertainty, Lewis’s words offer comfort in knowing that the situation we face is not unique, nor unprecedented. The world has faced many plagues before, and wars, and suffering, and the economic uncertainty that often accompanies these periods. And — as has been the case throughout history — human beings face death, regardless of its cause. As I write this, a close friend is suffering severely (and bravely) from cancer. I feared for him, and prayed for him, long before coronavirus came on the scene. Now we fear another contagion en masse.
Times like these, frightening as they are, can reorient one’s own priorities and those of society as a whole. It is arguable that our decadence has preoccupied much of our time and energy on matters that, in the end, don’t really matter. I won’t bother to list them here. After all, my list might be different from yours. But one thing is certain: the top priority for most in these times is the health and well-being of family and friends, the ongoing work that doesn’t pause for a pandemic, and a greater reliance, for many, on faith in God. The latter, if lasting, could be the best outcome from our present circumstance.
Discovery Institute’s mission is to advance a culture of purpose, creativity, and innovation. Those three pillars will guide our organization, and now even our country, through the weeks and months ahead. With that in mind, I recently asked a fellow worker a rhetorical question: Why do we care about what is happening? Why is it that we worry about the lives and livelihoods of our family, friends, and neighbors? And why are we presently trading economic hardship for the protection of human life? You know the answer: Because life matters more than the material. Regardless of whether or not one accepts the idea of a purposeful universe, which suggests God, the value of life is written on the human heart. In times of crisis, life is what matters most, even to many dyed-in-the-wool materialists.
Human beings also display remarkable ingenuity and creativity. Every human achievement — from eternity past to present day — represents the accumulation of knowledge and the application of that knowledge in everyday life. This will be put to the test in big ways and small to address the current threat. The big ways are obvious and immediate: the need to develop therapies to treat the sick, and vaccines to protect the healthy. These will take time, but they will happen.
Other creative solutions — both known and unknown — are smaller, but no less important, especially when considered as a whole. One recent example from our home base of Seattle brought a tear to my eye. Health care workers from Providence St. Joseph Health, lacking urgently needed protective medical gear for nurses and doctors, scoured the city for raw materials from home improvement and hobby stores. Working together in a conference room in Renton (near Seattle), they produced 500 medical grade masks and face shields desperately needed to safely test patients. As the old adage says, necessity is the mother of invention. It is a truism, and one that can be witnessed in moving photos of the scene, now making the rounds on social media. This ability to apply human creativity, and to innovate, will save lives.
In the end — thanks to our focus on purpose, creativity, and innovation — I am hopeful. Next month will mark my 20th year at Discovery Institute. In that time, I have witnessed the trauma of September 11, the wars that followed, the Great Recession, and other national and personal tragedies. It’s not easy, and difficult decisions remain, but we always come through. So, too, will our country. And when we do, we will look back and realize that, in these times, purpose became primary; that human minds, not material processes saved the day; and that innovations, heretofore unknown, played a vital role in rising to the challenge. A restoration of faith, and its application in daily life, is likely to be an outcome as well.
Here is some additional good news. In this indefinite time of self-quarantine, social distancing, and binge watching, I encourage you to take advantage of Discovery Institute’s incredible array of video and audio resources along with some recent articles. Please also share them with your friends and family.
Thank you for your loyal and steadfast support of our work, even in the midst of the turmoil. It is appreciated beyond words.
Steven J. Buri