Our Kairotic Zeitgeist: An Opening For Contemplation

There are now approximately 5 billion people ordered or strongly urged to stay at home. At this very moment, we could be experiencing an extraordinary collective existential opening.

It must be clear to you that, at least in the United States, our healthcare system is fragile; that our food system (given intricate supply chains and green revolution innovations) are fragile; that our system of employment is fragile; and our nuclear families, as David Brooks recently pointed out, are likewise fragile. Welcome to our meta-crisis.

Now, the Greek term kairos refers to a kind of time that is “opportune” or “timely” or “propitious.” To be sure, we must act swiftly as well as wisely.

Yet, just now as 5 billion people are sheltering in place, might the kairotic zeitgeist be urging us, almost pleading with us to re-embrace contemplation? When we contemplate, we ask introspective questions that had been, perhaps for centuries, long forgotten. We also, right now, realize how many things we had taken for granted.

Since I’ve been writing, at least for three years now, about work, let me turn to that subject here. Consider closely what Bertrand Russell once said, “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” You can now see, if you’re being honest with yourself, that we’ve embraced a culture that presumed that work was “terribly important.” It was not and it has never been. 

Once you’v started to–what a strange idiom this–‘work from home’ and also once you realize that the work you do is not terribly important, you can ask, “Well, then, what sorts of things are actually terribly important?” Don’t stop the inquiry at family or romantic love. Don’t go for sloppy thinking. Go much, much further.