Is this the End of the Age of Bragging? | Opinion

Before we isolated, I went to an event at a fancy NYC club. It was an all men's "Scotch Night", a macho tradition where only men (mostly middle-aged plus) try different scotches each more expensive and rarer than the next. I am sure that one bottle of a rare batch cost the same amount as the now ubiquitous Care Act checks which are slowly flooding our nation. As a bagpiper played at this festive bacchanalia, the men drank scotch, and touched and hugged each other as they gobbled caloric food in excess. There were only a few COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Trump was right, why worry?

At the time, as the" Beast" was first making its lethal path to NYC, I clearly didn't realize that what was happening that night symbolized everything that went wrong with our society over the last several decades. In a short time, most of what we knew about our world would dissolve quickly in about the same time it would take to down a shot of expensive scotch. The scotch night men all had great jobs, and many were thumping their chest about how rich they were from the Trump stock market. They were showing pics of their multiple homes and successful kids. There was talk about their profitable investments and name dropping about famous and successful people they knew. The bragging was as pervasive as the scotch and the food and as loud the bagpipes. It was the usual One Percent blabber; afraid of the progressives, scared of income equality but all the while knowing that Trump was temperamental and dangerous.

The men also were ignoring the "do not shake hands" order of five weeks ago and brazenly touching each other. I seemed like a germophobe and was teased about wanting to elbow bump. They wanted to agree with Trump that this virus would vanish quickly or as a bit of hoax. They thought that it would never be as bad as China.

Several people who crowded into the club would get the virus. Many became infected that night and would become symptomatic in the coming weeks.

All this happened in a flash, as I settled in the house and before people started dying.

Silly and selfish pursuits

Looking back, that evening of excess was a metaphor for how the world was then and now weeks later how it has all changed. Coming out of this our society will need to be more progressive. It already is. There is hope that the old currency of boasting and excess will give way to a more equitable society.

Our often silly and selfish pursuits now seem even more so. The startling divide between the have and have nots is now worse, a pandemic of its own. The most one can brag about now is that you have a roof over your head, you are so far healthy, that you can pay your bills, maybe still have a job and that you are surrounded by love ones. You pray that we will not have to fight for food.

Yet people I know are still trying to crow. People with means are scared that they will have diminished lives, so they compensate by bragging. It is a reflex for some people. They say hopefully we will be back to normal.

Social media feeds have changed. People are posting calming pictures of nature and paying tribute to the heroes of the pandemic. People are shaming and shouting down the purveyors of excess. Celebrities are giving back. Nostalgia is in. Chest thumpers beware. You are not in style anymore. You are chalk screeching on the blackboard.

In my world, we cannot leave the house because my wife has a decades-long lung condition, so I search the internet for essentials and delivery options, so we minimize our exposure to the virus. Cleaning toilets in a nice house makes me a lucky one. But we miss our son, his girlfriend and our grand dog who are isolating far away from us.

After both 9/11 and 2008 I worked for a company—Time Warner—with a generous CEO who had a big heart. He cared about the people more than the bottom line. He felt a company had to care for its workforce to be successful and he walked that walk.

During the pandemic, there seem to be many like him running companies. They are CEOs who now seem to care more about the people than the, hopefully, temporary economic dislocation. Companies and all of us will have to act this way when we come out of this nightmare and go back to whatever normal becomes.

Our opportunity to change

I have had a long 36 year corporate career most of it at the top of Time Warner, and for the last eight years as a partner in a global communications firm as I have been advising companies on how to communicate to audiences like the press, employees, and Wall Street as well as how to navigate crises. My best advice is always care about your people, pay them more and value how they are making our society function in a time of crisis. Those who do so will emerge stronger.

In a meaningful career of having seen it all, I always have been wary of predictions, pundits and experts. Everyone has an opinion on when and how the nightmare can end. No one knows.

As I mop the floor and juggle my work calls in my house for the last 60 days, I have an odd thought that I am almost too scared to make public.

Can what is happening now in the world be pay back for decades of excess and not caring about the society's inequality? Can it be retribution for the tremendous wealth divide that has split this country and the world, fouled our environment, and created declining U. S. health among poorer people for decades?

People must realize that the heroes now are our medical workers, our grocery clerks, our teachers, our delivery people and the police and firefighters. The doorman in masks receiving packages and the postal clerk delivering them. The doctors and nurses, many low paid, risking their lives in substandard conditions to keep people alive. All are keeping us going the world turning.

Yet, in my crowd, I am still hearing people Zooming about how rich they are, who has the right address, their fancy cars and about their kids getting into the right schools and securing the big jobs.

It is like they are on holiday for a bit.

All that is hollower than ever. Stop the talk and begin to appreciate your good fortune. Let us vow to make the world more equitable. There should be more talk about stocking the food pantries and keeping people fed.

The crisis has given us an opportunity to recalibrate and begin to make this a better world for the next generations.

What you can do now is stop bragging, take care, appreciate those who are keeping this world safe and fed and remember when it is over to change your view of what is important.

By then you will know what matters. Let's hope that when society renews, we really have one that is more equitable with better values. Change is born out of tough times and this situation has highlighted where we need change.

Money and status and big fests do not create immunity. Having more is not a goal in and of itself. Let us spread resources around instead of the virus.

As Bob Dylan wrote prophetically in 1963:

For the loser now will be later to win, for the times they are a changin'

There's a battle outside and it is ragin '

The slow one now will later be fast.

The order is rapidly fading.

And the first one now will later be last.

For the times they are a changin'

Ed Adler is a partner in a global strategic communications firm. He spent 36 years at Time Warner, many as head of the company's corporate communications. He lives in New York City and the Hamptons.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​