I was once told (but I cannot swear to the authenticity of the anecdote) that, in the late 1930s, in certain circles of the French bourgeoisie, on the invitation cards for a lunch, a party, or an exhibition opening, the classic formula (RSVP, for “Répondez s’il vous plait”) was supplemented by the mysterious acronym : IHP, for “If Hitler Permits”, so great was the concern that war would break out at any moment, leading to the cancellation of all such festivities.
Today, one could rightly slip a similar acronym into all invitations to lunches, dinners, symposiums, forums and other inaugurations: ITCP, “If the Covid permits”.
In fact, in two years, we have come to realise that nothing can be planned with as much assurance as before. Not a lunch, not a date, not a dinner, not a holiday, not any other appointment of any kind. We have even come to admit that this situation is not a parenthesis, which should soon be closed, but a structural dimension of the human condition whose fragility and finitude the rich and powerful, as well as most of the middle class, have come to forget. Neglecting the obvious: at any moment, our lives can take another turn, or be interrupted.
We lived as if we were absolute masters of the future. An absurd illusion that the pandemic has dispelled. SLCLP should therefore be the hallmark of 2022.
If you think about it, the formula is not as negative as it may seem. To say or write, on an invitation, “ITCP ” is already to make plans, to display them, and to implement them, even if we keep in mind that they may be made impossible by an event beyond our control. It means not having given up on projecting ourselves into the future. It means remembering that only people with plans can last. This is the great lesson that Victor Frankl, Freud’s pupil, drew from his martyrdom in Auschwitz: to survive the permanent attempt at murder that was life in the camps, one had to never think about the imminence of death, nor about hunger, and to have projects. This lesson, from which Frankl drew a profound psychoanalytical theory after the war, applies perfectly to today’s situation.
In the coming world, and as early as 2022, nothing would be worse than giving up, giving up, thinking only of the dangers of the pandemic, believing oneself to be ill without actually being ill, thinking oneself to be condemned as soon as the news of the infection comes out, packing up, letting go of the ramp, no longer planning any meetings, holidays, trips, initiatives. And yet, there is a great risk that many people will be tempted to live in the moment, in resignation. Those who do so, whether companies, nations or individuals, will only accelerate the coming of the events they fear, according to the classic spiral of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
At the end of a second year marked by this new uncertainty, it is particularly important to continue to make plans and even, more than ever, to go into the details of organising their implementation.
For my part, (and I invite you to do the same) I will look at the list I prepared at this time last year; I will see what has been done, what has failed, what I have not even tried. I will add the essentials, i.e. everything that the unexpected made me do more or differently; I will reflect on why I had given myself these ambitions. I will define my objectives for the next twelve months (which will be radically different from those I set myself the previous year); and finally I will look at how I can afford to achieve them, even if Covid tries to prevent me from doing so. Hopefully, one day I will be able to write not ITCP but IMNMW (“invitation maintained no matter what.”)