The Coronavirus and a Shift in Priorities
Well, here we are"confronted with a reality that is inescapable and personal. We cannot find a safe place to be. We have no known immunity. We only have our wits, our hearts and minds, our creativity and our resilience to fall back on.
Just like a near death accident or a heart attack shifts our focus and our priorities, recent events clarify just how fragile life is, how little our assumptions about security really matter, and how much we treasure every moment of our lives when we know that the end may be unpredictably near.
When we realize that our survival is perhaps in imminent danger, we begin to think about how to enhance our chances and we begin to think of the survival of those near and dear to us. We quickly begin to understand that our survival is also dependent on the communities in which we live, and they are dependent on the larger communities with which they come in contact. We begin to realize that everything and everyone is interconnected in ways that are beyond our control. We are all in this together.
So, we are left to find solutions that help everyone. We understand that state, county or even national borders have little to do with finding solutions because we do not even know exactly what the virus is, or even exactly how it is transmitted, much less having a structure to deal with it effectively and knowing that a vaccine may be more than a year away, we are left in limbo in terms of how to deal with this virus.
We are definitely not in this on our own. It is a universal threat; a pandemic like the Spanish Flu at the beginning of the 20th Century or the Bubonic Plague in the Medieval Period. Hopefully it will not reach those proportions, but we simply do not know. All we know is that it is an existential threat to human beings.
This virus is not exactly evil personified. It is just doing what viruses do, looking for a home, a host in which it can grow and survive. Viruses are infinitely adaptable, changing to fit their needs within their limitations. They are not particularly selective; pretty much any warm body will do.
It seems to be true that older people are more susceptible, but other than that, we know very little. All the categories we have spent so much of our human history establishing appear to be merely illusions of invulnerability. Gender does not matter, religious affiliation is not a determining factor, nor is race, nationality nor life-style. It matters little what your income is, nor your social status, nor your politics, nor your ideology. It is an equal opportunity virus.
Either we deal with this as an entire and interconnected human race or we separate ourselves and weaken our effect in our exclusiveness. The solution is to rebuild community, to reinstate cooperation, to forego competition and manipulation and even war to face a more imminent threat. We see that being the riches country in the world seems of little consequence, nor does having the greatest military, nor the most complete security system, nor the largest prison system.
In taking stock of where we are relative to the new realities and their potential for serious consequences, we begin to reorder our priorities. We begin to see which things are crucial and which are luxuries or indulgences. We find we do not need those vacations. We do not need as much travel. We do not need to be distracted by large venue entertainment. Our favorite team's records are of little consequence in the scheme of things. We begin to rethink our patterns of consumption and probably pull back. Our lives may begin to become more simplified and focused. We rethink our relationships to our families, our loved ones, our communities.
In the end this health challenge is both an individual challenge and a societal challenge. How will we respond individually and as a society?
Here are two words to consider in meeting that challenge. The first is "responsibility", which in its most basic form is simply the ability to respond, which means what individual resources, both external in internal, do we have to call upon in these moments of serious challenge.
The other word is "courage". In its most basic etymology the word comes from "coeur", the root word for heart. One way to think of courage is not just the kind of courage that is exhibited in attacking a machine gun emplacement in a war, but more broadly in dealing with fear. Courage is not allowing fear to close you down. Your ability to deal with the world effectively relies on you remaining open so that your gifts, talents and abilities to respond to events in the world are available. If fear is allowed to close you down, then none of those gifts, talents and abilities are available to resolve the issue.
So, how do we respond as individuals? Either we have the courage to take responsibility for participating in the resolution of the challenge or we withdraw and build walls, choosing isolation and self-interest above the needs of others and the society.