Angels and demons

Let’s imagine that one fine day, because of a tiny, invisible and insatiable bug, everything we know is transformed: toilet paper runs out in supermarkets, shops and schools close and jobs disappear, at the same time that everyone begins to fear the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Now imagine a coffee retailer in that world. He is not just any salesman: he has stores in many airports around the world and sells, within his stores, in addition to coffee, souvenirs, books, chocolates, jewelery and everything that could interest the tourists who visit any of these stores. We could call this salesman Mr Coffee.

Mr Holiday, who lives in the same country as Mr Coffee, is the owner of a hotel and has established a prosperous business after spending many years in tourism. Mr Holiday tries to attract, to the distant and exotic region where his hotel is located, the tourists who have passed or will pass through Mr Coffee’s shops. Although they have never met, both depend on the tourism industry that hangs by a nearly broken thread.

A few hours after the arrival of the tiny and threatening bug in that country, Mr Coffee fires many of his employees. After a quick process of adding and subtrating, he realizes this is the best thing he can do: he will have a year with no losses and will avoid long-term problems. His business does not need experts, only young salespeople with some level of English. It will simply be a matter of hiring them when things go back to normal, thinks Mr Coffee.

At the same time, Mr Holiday suffers from a stabbing pain in his back so severe that he cannot move his arms. The world has fallen over him. He knows that he will not only have to add and subtract to determine the fate of his company. Beyond what the numbers reflect, the greatest value he has is the people he has selected, trained and helped transformed into happier and more competent human beings. So he decides not to fire anyone and assume the financial impact that this implies.

Our characters are not alone, despite the fact that the authorities recommend isolation to combat the undesirable effects of the tiny bug. The ministry and the tourism chambers voice themselves through different press releases and speak of a calamity with no precedent. Everyone, without knowing, lives in a Hollywood movie. They are all protagonists of Contagion (2011), the film that for the last days tops the lists of the most viewed on Netflix.

Contagion (2011) anticipates much of what we experience because of the Coronavirus today, in Costa Rica and the world. In that film, toilet paper in supermarkets also disappears, businesses close and airports are emptied. Fear spreads. Contagion concentrates on those places that were previously secondary: knobs, railings and glass. Furthermore, it leaves us perplexed by what seems like a premonition, a pandemic that arises from transmission between a bat, a pig and a human being.

It is probable that some of us knew the Hollywood films by Steven Soderbergh, the director of Contagion. Soderbergh has directed Traffic (2000), Erin Brockovich (2000) and Ocean’s Eleven (2001) but his professional career includes more than 40 films, highly varied in style and budget. It is amazing to see how, for more than three decades, Soderbergh has assumed his career in a fluid and flexible way, jumping between very diverse projects. Flexibility and creativity always travel together. This association should not be absent from any company or business.

Soderbergh and Mr Holiday value human capital. They know that some projects will make them grow as human beings and will make them more competent professionals. They deeply esteem the people around them and desire their well-being as much as their own. This solidarity allows them to travel more easily through moments of anxiety and helps them to cope with economic loss. They know very well that there are more important things than money.

On the other hand, Mr Coffee simply does not tolerate the possibility of seeing himself in the red, even in moments of crisis like the one we are experiencing today. For him, economic loss is synonymous with failure. The more he fills his pockets, the happier he is. Solidarity is a missing value in your dictionary. He moves through the waters of convenience and feels satisfied having learned to add and subtract. Especially to add.

Mr Holiday teaches us that flexibility, creativity and solidarity are essential virtues to keep us going in times of crisis. Fortunately, some businessmen and women have followed the footsteps of Mr Holiday, who in turn seem to have followed those of Mr Ángel: the businessman who stood by his community after a tremendous earthquake shook the country, more than ten years before, and who continued to make jellies despite the difficulties.

It seems unfair that Mr Ángel appears so late in our story, considering that he protected those who depended so much on him. At the end of the day this is a story of benefactors who strive and even sacrifice for those around them and selfish characters, who think only on their benefit and flee at the first glimpse of calamity. A story of angels and demons. Of course, many of us are in that gray wide mass between both worlds. It is up to all of us, demons, angels and grays, to contribute to the happy end of this story.