How to Survive in Interesting Times
There’s a brilliant scene in the HBO miniseries Chernobyl that tingles the spine. In the middle of the night, minutes after a nuclear reactor exploded, the two party officials in charge of it gather at a conference table.
A bloodied control room worker tells them the reactor core is gone. On fire. He’s seen it with his own eyes.
They laugh at him. That’s impossible.
“Are you stupid?” one of them scolds. “Please tell me how a RBMK reactor core explodes.”
It’s not until a day or two later, when authorities from Moscow arrive, that the two officials step outside and see how much shit they’re in. There’s chunks of radioactive graphite everywhere, black smoke purling, and an eerie glow of ionization over the reactor building.
“It was Dyatlov!” they whimper, blaming their pal as the guards drag them away.
From here, and with the crime scene undeniable, everyone starts the massive clean-up, descending into what storytellers call the supreme ordeal—a dangerous physical test of every skill the hero has. If the hero survives this spiritual gauntlet, he’ll be reborn.
If the hero fails, he’ll perish—and if a timid physicist can’t uncover the hidden truth of how the explosion happened, the future and safety of the whole Soviet population will die on the operating table.
More and more reactors will explode.
In a scalpel-edged plot turn, the supreme ordeal becomes the life-or-death struggle to find the truth and make it heard… no cake walk in a police state where truth-tellers disappear.
It’s a great story, cut with style. It reminds us that the stakes of the ordeal are usually sky high, for the hero and for everyone else.
And if a scene with two schmoozing officials denying what happened feels mighty familiar… well, hell. Maybe it’s time to step outside the conference room and look around.
An Ordeal’s Coming…
And it’s out for all of us.
Think we’re full of it?
If you read or follow or short monthly email, you probably know what we think about a reactive Fed that’s leading from behind, flattening yield curves home and abroad, and no shortage of global uncertainties.
Add to that:
-The worst stock market quarter since March of 2020
-More supply chain disruption from zero-COVID lockdowns in Shanghai, the city with the largest and busiest port in the world.
-Russia actually doubled it’s gas and oil output since its invasion of Ukraine.
-Protests over the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade are already turning violent, with the ruling itself looking to spike polarization even higher.
Sometimes, you’ve gotta face the music …but wait, on that note:
-A Federal Disinformation Board—something so out of 1984 it ain’t even funny—is kicking off with a thirty-something czar who sings on Tik Tok.
In the choice words of Vince Lombardi, what the hell’s going on out here?
A Silver Lining to the Mayhem
There’s no denying it. Just bring up Google search and watch the old proverb ‘may you live in interesting times’ shrivel to an understatement.
Have we even seen all the damage yet?
Or, like party officials, perched underground with their feet up on the table, are we living on borrowed time? In complete denial of what’s already happening on the surface?
We hope not. After all, who in their right mind would rather live through Chernobyl than watch it? There’s nothing wrong with wishing for the flipside of interesting times—highly desirable, highly comfortable, and highly uninteresting times… the ones perfect for summer vacations and mai tai sipping on the beach.
But believe it or not, the mayhem comes with an upshot, with opportunities no princess cruise vacation every will.
Namely, facing the ordeal gives us once-in-a-lifetime chances to grow, conquer more of ourselves, and win some glory on the other side.
And where it’s much more fashionable to run with the stampede, stick one’s head in the sand, or throw someone else to the wolves to save our hide, the hero’s journey tells us that immortal souls like ourselves need an occasional dose of the real thing—facing the ordeal head on and slugging it out.
And if you think about it, the most successful heroes, the ones who make it across the abyss as the crocodiles snap behind them, have some solid tools in their belt. Wisdom, strategy, and a good grasp on their strengths and limits.
But when the start-up cash stops, the lawsuit lands, or the building materials decide they’re going to lock down in a Shanghai port for the conceivable future, where, (and who) can lenders and entrepreneurs turn to?
If there’s any guide or blueprint to reaching the other side, even the bravest among us should be all ears.
A Rush of Perspective
If there’s anything close to a silver bullet, it might be seeing the larger story for what it really is.
To start with, anything that goes down in the next six to eight months has happened before. Swap out time, location, a few details, and it’s all been said and done. War. Recession. Rebirth. Prosperity. Boredom… again and again and again.
There’s a mind-blowing book on this very subject called The Fourth Turning, which argues that generational changes, challenges, and crisis points circle around the four seasons. Times of ordeal and times of tranquility have their own life cycles. At about sixty years since the end of World War II, the dollar’s rise to world reserve currency, and an international order that brought us globalization… it’s not surprising that the global order is due for a big one.
But there’s another side of the coin.
In the past, when the world and different countries have gone through times of disruption, they’ve come out stronger. In fact, for every apocalyptic news item, there’s a past development that came out of the furnace to make life better.
Should we be any less surprised about:
-The rule of law
-Winning World War II
-Medical technology saving hundreds of millions of lives
-Hunger and poverty dropping worldwide
-Affordable international travel
Less we forget, none of these came cheap or easy.
And why would they keep happening again and again if there’s not something in human nature that sparks them, fuels them, or pulls toward catastrophe like iron to a magnet?
We don’t know what will happen. But we can dare to see the larger picture, the one with millions of everyday heroes stepping up to fight it out, in hopes that the next level unlocked will help everyone else.
And if the monsters in the cave close on in, what then?
If the inevitable flattens us, if the lights go out and that’s all she wrote… is that any reason to live in fear? In the words of C.S. Lewis in his essay ‘On Living in the Atomic Age,’ no. Not in the slightest.
‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat at night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.
Believe me… you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented.
If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”
Take out the words ‘Atomic Bomb’ and slap on COVID. War. Recession… anything in the news, and see how that reads.
That’s perspective, friend.
Something for anyone who knows that when everything is on the line, it’s not time to shelter in place.
Why We Care About This
If the supreme ordeal is a real thing, then so is the upshot.
The journey grows us, sharpens us, and somehow brings our best to the surface.
At Dare Capital, we challenge ourselves and those we partner with to live boldly, wisely. Not with their eyes closed to what might be happening… but without intimidation.
It’s a fine line, and a lonely road to walk, but after decades of doing this—of learning the hard and sometimes wonderful lessons by betting on entrepreneurs and building strong relationships—we know it’s the only one.
If that’s a perspective you can jam with, maybe you should join us.
Step up and give us a call.