2020 Pandemic: a Black Swan?
Before explorers from the northern hemisphere reached Australia, they thought all swans were white. In his 2007 book The Black Swan Nassim Taleb, suggests that ‘Black Swan’ events (where previously inconceivable events occur) have triggered and also help explain much of the change the world has seen.
Black Swan events are said to have three characteristics. Firstly, they must be outliers – something that we couldn’t reasonably see coming, something deeply improbable. Secondly, they must have an extreme impact. Finally, after the event has occurred we see people create explanations, to make up stories to help us make sense of the event and our lives.
In 2020 we certainly didn’t see the pandemic coming - despite movies in popular culture warning us and small bands of scientists quietly reminding us of the inevitability of a global pandemic one day, not too far away. The impact has undeniably been severe on human health, wellbeing and livelihoods across the globe. Here in Melbourne, lockdowns, curfews, public health restrictions, masks, international, interstate and even local area border closures, remote learning, our school closed…the list goes on. After the event, some have endeavoured to deny the reality or severity of the viral pandemic, dreamt up conspiracies, sought to blame and vilify others and been reluctant or simply refused to act with a sense of social responsibility.
I am profoundly grateful for the extraordinary response of our school community when we moved so quickly into remote learning, and later were forced to close and subsequently return to this remote learning. The adaptability, creativity and commitment of teachers and support staff has been tremendous and the response of students from the youngest Year 7 to our most seasoned Year 12s have responded magnificently. Parents, carers and staff have worked from home alongside their dependents, and those with younger children have faced particular challenges with great fortitude, compassion and occasional doses of frustration. As we have watched in the media the impact of the coronavirus around the world, we have also been reminded of how privileged we are on a global and local scale.
What have we learned?
It is a truism that we learn much more in difficult or trying times about ourselves and others. In 2020 we have learned that despite the undeniable challenges, we can make it through - that we have the resourcefulness, resilience and perseverance to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. We have been reminded that life is always uncertain, alongside appreciation of simpler things; and beauty, hope and love.
As a global community it is my hope that we remember that we found our way to zero community transmission by respecting the evidence – the science, mathematics and knowledge of human behaviour that underpins our understanding of our world.
As we approach a new summer with the memory of last season’s bushfires still etched in our minds, it is also my profound hope that we will acknowledge and act with determination on the science about climate and environment. For whatever hemisphere we live in there can be no pretence nor excuse that these issues are ‘Black Swan’ events.
We know that the challenges of our experience this year will manifest well into 2021 and beyond. A partner to our resilience, is our vulnerability and whilst the wind is currently fair and we are back on course, the journey continues. I urge us all to be alert to how each one of us is travelling and to provide encouragement and to seek personal and professional support wherever it is needed.
I wish everyone a hard earned and thoroughly deserved restorative holiday break, a joyful festive season and look forward to a fresh start in 2021.
Whilst in some ways 2020 has been a year to forget, good things have happened, often in unexpected ways. For example, we have also taken the opportunity to upgrade our school camp at Mirrimbah at the base of Mt Buller and Mt Stirling, where works (including new wall cladding, roofs, windows, external doors, and insulation) are continuing apace right up to Christmas and beyond.