Less than three weeks ago, an esteemed English professor/poet laureate staying in my home pulled out his flip phone (no kidding), and pondered how to Zoom his new online classes.
Look at us now. Henry is sailing through his Zoom maneuvers; my niece Emily is streaming her Sunday morning service to an at-home congregation; my accountant is educating me via a webinar; Elton John and friends play for us from their homes; artisans the world over are checking in via What's App, friends on email and text; phone conferences play out at my home on the hour; grandparents celebrate their little ones on Facetime . . . I mean, the longer we are isolated, the more creative we get in banding together.
My brother once gave me a book that I return to often, A Beautiful Constraint. In it, I read story after story of young businesses turning their limitation into a defining asset. I learn about the team who set out to make a coffee table for twice the price of the latte sitting on it. Ikea was born. Or an early online endeavor to sell shoes to people who cannot try them on. Enter Zappos. Or the young ad agency whose client demanded they use no models and create nothing that looked like an ad. So . . . Nike.
It isn't that these companies learned to get around a constraint. They made the constraint the cornerstone of their brand. They chose to grow strong in the very place where they were most limited.
From the first breath of Ibu, I said: it's about women, about artisanship, about living wages and sustainable work. Wow, that meant I've had to say no to so many outstanding male artisans, and say no to lower-cost work that doesn't pay artisans well and a multitude of salable ideas that don't fit into my self-imposed limitations. But that's what makes Ibu what it is, and builds trust, I hope, with you. I call it a beautiful constraint.
Here we are: seriously limited, constrained, separated. And making of it something strong. In our isolation, we're reaching out to one another more than ever. In a time of financial instability, we're choosing to stabilize those who have lost their jobs. In our state of vulnerable health, medical personnel are putting their own health in harm's way. Car companies are turning down profit to make ventilators; Louis Vuitton spinning away from perfume to make free hand sanitizer.
It's revolutionary, really. This new place where we stand. Scary and dangerous, absolutely. Any of us could fall to this virus, or fall to exhaustion. The economy could surely fall tomorrow. But whatever might fall, I want to venture, will fall into hands which are joined while not touching; will fall into a world at home, but not alone. Whatever falls will find something solid at the bottom - a global community that has learned - really deep down learned - that the last word is not COVID, but cooperation and compassion; and that what matters more than social distancing is strangers uniting, and that we are capable of all of this at the same time, as never before.
I do not want to call this shutdown a beautiful constraint. No, for many it is absolutely not. But it is a constraint we are all sharing; and in that, I do want to call us to something beautiful. To think bigger of our world. To lean in further toward one another. To delve deeper in our giving. To ask more of ourselves.
What if together we grew strong in this constraint and let that strength be the cornerstone of our common life from which we rebuild everything?
from my home alone to yours,
Susan Hull Walker
* A Beautiful Constraint, Adam Morgan, Mark Barden