Unconditional

The sun shines without conditions

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, from The Second Coming

We live ‘if then’ lives in our market economy. There is power in the unconditional. In a time of crisis when conditions can no longer hold, we need to let a few conditions go. It is a time to get back to our human values.

We didn’t plan for 2020 to go this way. Our grand 2020 strategies didn’t allow for this year. 2020 has broken so many of our preconditions. For many ‘the centre cannot hold’. This isn’t the deal we signed up for.

It has been commonplace for us to view unconditional action as unwise. The smart game, as the common discussion goes, involves a ‘quid pro quo’, conditions being met or some other a transactional exchange. Generosity is suspect. Self-interest rules.

Not all of life is a market exchange. Crises have a way of disrupting markets. Community, relationships and love matter. The best of these are unconditional. The best of these are even unlikely and irrational. Instead of market transactions, they are human relationships between people who engage unconditionally.

One of the reasons art has appealed strongly to me during this crisis is it is often unconditional. A poem is. Artworks are. They don’t demand conditions be met first to add value. Art may be part of our marketplace but transcends it.

For many, conditions and quid pro quos are not part of the equation. Emergency workers and frontline workers are continuing to do their roles often without necessary safety equipment or even a full understanding of the risks. Protesters are pushing for important social and climate change and for a more just society at risk to their own lives and livelihoods. Parents are grappling with work and education and life all on top of each other when the usual supports are removed. Many are worrying about the care of older parents and relatives or dealing without critical networks of support and care. Neighbours are looking out for each other and their communities. Few of these people get to impose conditions. Few wait until the circumstances are perfect to make their contributions. They do the needful.

If you don’t stick to your values when they are tested, they are hobbies, not values

Jon Stewart

To paraphrase Jon Stewart, conditional values are hobbies, not values. Organisations that fail the test to look after their people, their customers and their community in this time don’t get to rely on a crisis exception. Values are as unconditional like the relationships that they found. Let people down now and they are let down for ever.

Now more than ever, we need to look for those who we can build relationships on that are not based in transactional values and fragile conditions. Many of the things we need to do deliver cost in the short term for longer gain. It is a time for empathy, respect and love. A time for us to be generous in our regard for others and their potential. The path forward from this mess is founded in collaboration, community and a new respect for human, not conditional, relationships.

We don’t fall in love: it rises through us
the way that certain music does –
whether a symphony or ballad –
and it is sepia-coloured,
like spilt tea that inches up
the tiny tube-like gaps inside
a cube of sugar lying by a cup.

Julia Copus, from In Defence of Adultery

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