Simply, it’s sad and frustrating that we seem to be able to overcome COVID-19, and then, out of sheer stupidity of a man who should actually save lives, are forced to take to the streets to fight racism. If this is not a sign that we should do better in reflecting on our human behavior, then what is?
These days many people seem to be longing for normality. Dreaming about “normal times”, a lot of people may ask: “When will everything go back to normal again?”. This desire for normality brought several other questions to my mind, which I want to elaborate on: What is normality? Has it been “normal” before the COVID-19 pandemic? Do we really want to go back to this so-called normality?
“Normal” or “normality” for me holds a great problematic potential. Isn’t it highly subjective what “normal” is? Or at least it is relative to the subjectivity of a group. But in its use “normal” implicates somewhat of an objectivity around things described that way, while there is none. Often “normal” too is understood as a certain average or common ground. I myself would like to exchange the word “normal” by “healthy”, which is indeed as well a subjective term. But: I think it isn’t implicitly linked to universality or objectivity. And if we would start asking the same questions we used to ask by using the words “normal” or “normality” and replace them with “healthy” or “health” these questions would turn into quite different questions, as well as their possible answers. Questions like “When will everything go back to normal again?” or “What can we do to restore our old, familiar normality?” become questions like “What does a healthy society look like?”, “What does a healthy world look like?” or “What has to be done/what can we do to achieve a healthier life/society/world?”.
On the one hand and without doubt this global crisis is a tragedy in so many ways and I don’t want to dismiss this. On the other hand it is also an opportunity for us as people to evolve into a healthier community/society. But to be honest, I’m really worried about the world letting this opportunity pass – more than about the virus itself at times. We’ve seen things work out nobody would have believed before, we’ve seen potential we stopped believing in. We’ve been witnesses of how forgiving the world and its nature can be – like dolphins returning near the coast of Sardinia, clear water in the canals of Venice or the vanishing smog which hovered the big cities, now offering a clear view of the blue sky and so on – if we acted more consciously and empathically. So, making excuses has become much more difficult.
This crisis is an opportunity to grow, it’s a wake-up-call. It’s a time to reevaluate life and how we treat ourselves, each other and the planet we’re allowed to call home. Humans work in a way that constantly seeks the familiar. The familiar serves the human pursuit of safety. We want the familiar, because it suggests safety. However, familiarity doesn’t necessarily mean safety, health or to lead a good life. We need to reflect on what we are used to and reevaluate its worth and meaning! There’s a shift in our thinking necessary: We may need to let go of the familiar – let go of things that have been passed down from generation to generation – to find the authentic, healthy way of life.
Longing for the old times – for “normality” – is a step backwards, a step in the wrong direction or even more a non-step, a stop. We’ve been given a chance to grow beyond ourselves, to outgrow our conditioning, to start living more consciously and to not settle for the familiar “normality”. So let’s not miss this chance. Let’s not try to restore the status quo. Let’s do better!
In the past few days some thoughts came to my mind that I would like to elaborate on.
The first thought, it’s more of a question though, appeared as I left the drug store after my first visit since the corona virus outbreak had reached Austria: Why is it so hard to be friendly while keeping spacial distance? I know, we have to wear face masks and keep a certain distance and that these times are not easy, but does that mean we cannot greet each other? “A smile goes a long way” it says and, yeah, while wearing masks we don’t see each other’s mouths, but we can smile with our eyes or our voice or our words or even our body language.
There’s kind of a paradox going on it seems. While on the one hand people get out on their balconies to sing and cheer together, excited to show solidarity, on the other hand they just stare and don’t have a single “hello” to spare or buy so much toilet paper that the others can’t get any. I’m puzzled. For Austrians keeping distance emotionally seems to be a lot easier than keeping distance spatially, not only during corona though.
Second, it is often stated these days that people show more solidarity and humanity in this time of crisis. And I begin to wonder: What is humanity? What distinguishes ‘to act humanly’? What makes a certain behavior being considered inhumane? I always liked to think of behaving humanly as being respectful, giving, compassionate and understanding, which is surely true. But while reflecting on the meaning of it I came to think that there are characteristics which as well are part of humanity, like fear and suspicion that are not considered as praiseworthy. Of course, these could in a way be connected to our survival instinct.
So what shows up in this time of crisis? What is it we truly choose when we choose to show more humanity? Is it the compassionate and helping facet? Or is it the distrusting one? Or is it both, but intensified? I think for the most part we are able to decide which part gets stronger and which part we want to give to this world – not only in times of crisis. I would like to raise two subsequent questions to reflect on: Is there another disease spreading besides corona that is much more powerful and much more to be feared? And is this why we now have to face the corona virus pandemic to make meaningful decisions as humans?
Whether the unit is length or time, these days keeping sufficient distance constrains us. “Keep at least 2 seconds safety distance from other cars” and “keep at least 1 meter distance from other humans” they say. The former rule already existed when the corona virus was released into our world, the latter results from it. Sometimes it seems we have a problem with these rules – we obviously like closeness. All the more we are hit by the latest development that obliges us to stay at home.
Driving certainly is a different experience these days. Trucks mainly use the roads, but hardly any vehicle can enjoy the spacial freedom now available – our personal freedom suffers tremendously. Today the government announced that we must wear masks when shopping, which seems to be a necessary step in controlling the corona virus outbreak but changing our lives in so many ways.
People try to maintain closeness by increasing the use of social media. Phone, Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, e-mail and internet providers are more important than ever. Life challenges us by not being able to continue our daily routine, but we are humans, clever in finding new ways and possibilities.
It’d be great if we could learn from the current situation and if we embrace and take advantage of the opportunities the corona virus opens up. For example, to minimize individual traffic by thoroughly rethinking our behavior in this regard. Do we absolutely need to take our car to get here and there? Must we reduce the time of travel? Do we have to maximize our comfort?
Now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to reevaluate our thinking, decisions and beliefs. Now, more than ever, we have the chance to learn to be alone but not lonely. Now, more than ever, we can shift our physical closeness to psychic closeness.
I have some thoughts I want to share about the current situation regarding the corona virus outbreak happening all over the world. Not only here in Austria the government has initiated measures such as to prohibit leaving our homes – with certain exceptions and rules, i.e. buying groceries or going for a walk while maintaining a distance to others of at least 1m (if sufficient at all?). Therefore a lot of people stay at home, but there is also a significant number that do not.
It seems some people just do not see the importance of these measures. Maybe some of them are afraid of giving up their freedom – as for sure many are, whether they stay home or not. The fear of loosing our freedom surely is of meaning and absolutely understandable considering not only Austrias national-socialistic past. This is why I hypothesize that it is healthy not to feel comfortable with limiting our own freedom, because it shows awareness of yourself as an individual – among other things and mechanisms. I’m certainly not saying you should give up your fear, or rather your wish for freedom.
What I want is for you to consider that our own freedom ends where the freedom of another starts. And analogically, our obligations start where rights of others emerge and vice versa. People do have the (human) right to live as well as the (human) right of not being harmed (in German: Recht auf Unversehrtheit). Also, one of the basic principles of biomedical ethics is to do no harm. If you go outside to live on your social life and to act out your freedom you are interfering in these rights of other individuals. Especially of the ones who are older or have underlying health problems – such as people who have asthma or your grandparents, for example. By doing so you put their lives and welfare and those of the healthcare workers out there at risk. How can any healthcare worker help you or me or anybody if he or she is exhausted to an extent that he or she needs care or gets sick, mentally or physically?!
Frankly, you don’t have to be ok with the state enforced limitations, but please consider shifting your focus from defending your own freedom to protecting the safety of others for the time being, because it is our moral obligation to do so.