Coronavirus: A New Responsibility

Photograph by Lee van Laer
Photograph by Lee van Laer


In the midst of our anxiety and our reaction to the danger of infection, life seems somewhat surreal—compelling, distracting. I’m taken by the moment, and everything seems to be about the disease itself.

Yet life itself has permanently changed, already, and it will take many years for it to return to anything like it was. A tsunami of financial changes have already swept through the world population, changes which will ultimately put up to a billion people or more in unrecognizable economic hardship, hardship which has not been experienced since the great depression–and probably not even then. Lives are being uprooted; and the repercussions of that will last long past any ordinary recovery from, for example, a bad flu season. Anyone comparing this disease to the flu needs to think about that; the body count does not end with the dead. For every person who dies, there will be 1,000 or more who experience unimaginable hardship for years to come because they’ve lost their jobs, their houses, their income, their savings. The economic stimulus that governments are proposing are tiny fractions of what will be needed to support these unfortunate people. The magnitude of this is so completely unprecedented it is difficult to measure, but it is probably on the scale wreckage that was left after the last world war. It will take a global, not national, effort to repair it. 

Now is the absolutely worst time for the world to fall apart in petty nationalist squabbling. There is a greater than ever need to pull together and work together. Any human being—that is, person of conscience—can see that all of the so-called “leaders” of the worlds, free and not so free, around the world have already failed us in this regard. Will we continue to believe in them? Only, I propose, if they drop the arrogance of their responses towards other nations and reach out in a genuine effort to cooperate. Anyone who behaves otherwise is not a real leader, but a despot. There is no path to healing world society after this pandemic which can be carved out alone.  

The world is going to need to re-think its social contract. That social contract is the contract between human beings and the compassion they show towards one another. It isn’t going to be just about the money, although that is a certain part of it. It is about our perceptions of those less fortunate and what we ought to do to support them. Institutions can give the money, but they don’t dispense the compassion. That’s up to us. We need, as individuals and as a society, to take a long hard look this question. We should begin now, because the question is being forced upon us with an urgency that will only become apparent later, after the excitement of disease is over.

Solutions to the overwhelming challenges that will face us must begin in love; and they must begin with us as individuals, because we cannot rely on corporations or governments to be loving. They are machines that do not know how. We human beings are the conscious components of those machines, and if we don’t collectively exercise our awareness and our love to affect the direction of things, our machines will probably crush us instead of supporting us.

This means I myself have a new responsibility of awareness which extends beyond my thinking, my feelings, and my sensation, into my place in life itself: tendrils of awareness that may begin within myself and in my own, if meager, efforts that love, but extend into the lives of others. My awareness can help me to build a network of sensitivity towards others that will have a tiny but real effect on the lives of others. 

To the extent that we all work on that practice, we can help each other, and the world itself, in ways that our institutions are unable.