The COVID-19 outbreak leaves me with more questions than revelations about human nature.
I’m wondering what effect it will have on the world beyond people’s physical health or the global economy, and whether it will change the way we think. If so then how?
Like many people, I’ve long been convinced that the root causes of the world’s most pressing problems are systemic, and not exactly the kind that can be resolved through any sweeping piece of legislation.
That’s not to say the solutions aren’t simple. However, systemic change requires everyone making individual changes not because they are being made to, but because they have internalized, often through personal experience, how and why they should be making the change at all, because they are personally invested in doing so, because they realize they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
That universal realization would most definitely require a shift in the current collective consciousness; and while the shift itself might be simple, how we go about creating it has always proven complicated, because it has less to do with the laws we pass and more to do with how we educate ourselves with respect to the human experience, how we contextualize that shared experience and reinforce it to ourselves on a daily basis.
We’ve always seemed to know theoretically that compassion and respect, listening and sharing each help to create happier, more healthy relationships, and a more sustainable environment for everyone. It’s only in the practical application where we seem to have difficultly.
What’s more is that it only seems to get harder for us as the world’s population grows. How do you get everyone, everywhere, so suddenly and simultaneously, to internalize deeply enough just how tied they are to the person next to them? That the idea of each of us going at it alone, with little to no regard for the other person’s welfare and prosperity, is and always has been a delusional fantasy, especially as the world’s population grows?
It’s likely an easier concept to grasp, say, for crewmen on a ship, or people in a village, or a family in a home. Anyplace where the physical space is smaller and interactions more frequent and visibly consequential.
On the ship you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who ever questions the point in doing their part, or who gives up on the rest of the crew because they’ve suddenly grown cynical and bitter and tired. They do their part because they know if they don’t, the operational integrity of the ship will suffer.
Yet whether it’s the age-old global issues of war, poverty and racism, or the more recent and very real threat of climate change, the problems we continually face seem directly attributable to the fact that we as a planet lack any real sense of investment in one another.
One might be compelled to look up toward the heavens now in surrender, as if only some sudden, cataclysmic event might serve as the last remaining instrument in creating such sweeping behavioral change.
You’ve probably guessed it by now, but that is exactly what the coronavirus can be; and though it has left many of us justifiably worried, I can’t help but see it as a critical opportunity.
As the world’s population has skyrocketed over the past 100 years, so too have our technologies. With our additional advancements in medicine, it’s safe to say that we have grown more inclined to simple solutions for complicated problems, more or less adopting a ‘magic pill’ solution–be it legislation or an actual pill–for problems that can be more effectively, if not even permanently, remedied through fundamental changes in our lifestyle and our collective point of view.
As technologies have made our daily lives easier and done more of our work for us, whether it’s in how we obtain our food, care for our bodies or solve our geopolitical differences, we have grown less accepting of complication, ignoring the fact that complication doesn’t necessarily mean ‘more difficult.’
And though technology has long been replacing manpower and, by extension, increasingly reducing human interaction and cooperation, the consequences of that trend only seem to grow more evident and critical with every year, leading not just to the atrophy of basic, interpersonal skill sets but more so to the already broadening disregard of our own basic interconnectedness, understandings which are no more spiritual than they are practical and essential to the long-term sustainability of any society or ecosystem.
Sure enough, that disregard has filtered out to virtually every sphere of public life in the industrialized world. Remember only a month ago when you’d go out to a restaurant and likely see people at the table looking at their phones instead of each other?
Remember when images of people walking around in face masks seemed like some distant reality, like something that could never and would never happen here?
Remember the last time you walked amongst a crowd of people not giving it a second thought? Without ever considering that someday soon, and for the immediate days following, you suddenly wouldn’t be able to do that?
How often and easily we took our daily lives for granted, our extraordinary privilege to walk alongside each other as friends, strangers, lovers, brothers and sisters. Personally, I can’t wait to stand in a crowd again without worrying about getting sick and simply walk as just another citizen, another human being, one of many throughout the world who live under one sun, inhabiting a very precious and unique planet.
I can’t help but feel that physical isolation from one another in recognition of a greater good, in which we are so suddenly allowed time to ourselves if not with the people we love, is exactly what we need at this pivotal hour in our history. For in taking away something so essential to everyday human life, we may yet learn to appreciate and utilize it more.
In Barcelona, every night at 8:00, residents stand outside their balconies and look out over what is typically a congested street and applaud the country’s healthcare workers.
While Spain has long been marked by tension between its autonomous communities and the national government, any sort animosity people once felt toward each other, and particularly toward their government, is now gone.
They applaud in Madrid, Seville, Valencia and Pamplona, and in many other cities throughout the country, in a sudden and resounding show of support and solidarity.
Things have changed. Circumstances have dramatically altered what once seemed to be an indomitable perspective.
More than once I’ve pictured myself locked in some conflict with a person I love, with whom it seems there is no conceivable reconciliation until that person is thrust into danger. An accident occurs and they lie in a hospital bed, at which point all our past disagreements are suddenly revealed to be petty and ridiculous.
Our planet faces a turning point now. We stand at a crossroads unlike any we’ve encountered before. Indeed unlike crises of the past, it involves all us, everywhere. It pays little attention to race, religion, rich or poor, left or right. East or West. No, it comes for us all and we can face it together or we can continue as we’ve been, divided.
So long as there is one good person out there in the world, then there is hope for it. Fortunately, there is more than one good person. Fortunately, there are millions, and they form the oldest silent majority in history.
I’m sure you’re one of those people. I am one of those people. Our brothers and sisters are in trouble. They’re sick. They’re suddenly out of work. They’re overwhelmed. They need us. I need you.
We can do our part by staying home not only for ourselves but for others, for those who are in hospitals, and for everyone out there every day because they have to be.
We can remember that we’re in this together, and that our actions do indeed affect one another.
If we each do our part, we can and we will get through this.
Truly now more than ever, there is no them, no they.
There is only us.