‘What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?’
It’s an accurate description of the way we feel about life at the moment. We just don’t know what the game is any more. We heard the line, in the 2015 spy-thriller with Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance (yes, him again!) in a film about the Cold War: ‘Bridge of Spies’. We came across the film whilst channel hopping on TV last night. After ten minutes we were hooked.
The changes in the High Street are obvious. We went to Windsor late one afternoon last week not to shop but just to walk around among the bright lights. The shops of a few of the well-known brands lay dark and empty. Shops with which we have been familiar for many years have just disappeared.
In repeats of films and TV programmes, there are constant reminders that the world has changed enormously in a short period of time. Social attitudes have changed every bit as much as cars, clothes, technology. Some of the plots of dramas just would not work if mobile phones had been available in the day. Some would not work because of changes in values.
All of these observations are probably common to many people our age. But Covid-19 has undoubtedly speeded up the processes of social and institutional change for everyone. We shall not recognise how much until the pandemic has become history. One thing is certain – the game has changed so it is very difficult for us to know what the next move is. Why wouldn’t we be a bit bewildered?
Some of the current changes are good: people have become much more aware of global warming - overall carbon emissions are down. Some changes are bad. To help pay for our staggering levels of debt, the UK’s overseas aid budget has been cut. That may ease the burden a little on future generations in this country but the effect in some poorer third-world countries will be devastating. It will store up more trouble for the future in places where recurring environmentally-linked natural disasters are already the norm. And we will all feel those effects. But we’re all so focused on Covid-19 (and in the UK, Brexit) that so many of these environmental threats and changes continue and accumulate unobserved, unevaluated and unaddressed.
But while it’s difficult to know how to make the next moves individually, corporately, nationally, we can’t afford to give up. Unless we want to become ciphers, we need continuously to examine the game of life we’re playing and reflect on our strategy.
In another of Tom Hanks’ films – ‘Rain Man’ with Dustin Hoffman – Hanks’ character, Charlie Babbitt, says that his autistic brother, Raymond, “is answering a question from a half hour ago”.
At a time when questions about the rules of the new normal are changing so fast, maybe the best any of us can do is to stop and consider now and again whether or not we are answering yesterday’s questions or playing yesterday’s games.