In response, we are currently witnessing acts of great compassion across the world as literally millions of people mobilise to help each other through the greatest global adversity since World War 2. Doctors, Nurses, Health Care Workers, Police Officers, Emergency Services Personnel, Social Workers, Politicians, Administrators, Media, Ordinary Citizens (and the list goes on) have all mobilised to help other human beings in myriad different ways. They are “stepping in, stepping up and running towards” great adversity. It is by any measure impressive and worthy of great praise and admiration.
But there is also a tragic reality to this disaster that is typified in all disasters, whether they be storms, floods, cyclones, fires, pandemics, wars or any other natural or human caused peril. See, disasters do not create vulnerabilities, they show society where they already exist, and the extent to which we (particularly our governments) know about them is contingent on our willingness to look for them beforehand. As a society, our knowledge of potential harm and suffering can function between a scale of blissful ignorance through to wilful neglect. Increasingly, on some level, we know about our individual and collective vulnerabilities, but for many (often unhelpful and unwise) reasons we do little or nothing about them.
Put another way, disasters place a magnifying glass over us. They show us both the best and worst of who we can be. Again, like our vulnerabilities, the full range of our behaviours are already in existence. Irrespective of the disaster, whether it be from storm, flood, cyclone, fire, or pandemic, (or whether it be running out of basic supplies like toilet paper!!), the opportunity to show either virtue or vice towards others remains the same. We get the chance to express virtues such as compassion, kindness, care, consideration, patience and humility to the extent to which we are able and by which our circumstances allow, or we can express their opposites. Disasters do not create virtues and vices; they simply amplify them.
With this in mind, I turn to a crisis of another kind that is emerging from the current health and economic crisis but has received relatively little attention, and that is we also have an emerging global social crisis.
With social distancing and social isolation happening across many countries of the World at the direction of sovereign governments, billions of people have been told to stay at home for their own safety and the safety of others. The intention behind this strategy is sound but not without devastating consequences. Breaking the chain of transmission is critical to the success of stopping the virus. But sadly, for many, home is simply not safe. The instruction from governments leads them not to safety, but to emotional and possibly physical harm, danger and suffering.
The same instruction will destroy family businesses, place people out of work, deny people their education, prevent them from the need to give
and receive physical comfort, and stop them from participating in the rituals of birth, death and marriage. Hopeful futures will be lost, and existing adversities intensified. Loneliness, anxiety and depression will skyrocket along with the attendant rates of suicide and self-harm. It is simply impossible in this short blog to list the unfolding scale of human vulnerability and suffering this pandemic will amplify.
But what we can do is not only imagine, but physically and emotionally “step in, step up and run towards” the suffering of others. You see, what is being exemplified by the people above is the innate capacity for our global humanity to be compassionate. To see, sense and feel the suffering of another sentient being and to do something about it. It is the one consistent element in a global environment of great uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. That irrespective of the adverse circumstances that present, we get the chance, to the extent to which we are able and by which our circumstances allow, to help someone else. I cannot stress enough how important this is. The sufferings of the World are surfacing to our consciousness. They are not new. They have been lurking in a sea of ambivalence, ignorance and excessive self-interest for a long time, but now they are unambiguous. They are literally there for the World to see, sense and feel on a grand scale.
Currently there are countless examples of innovations and initiatives all over the World being undertaken by people inside and outside of government who saw, sensed or felt the suffering of others and decided to do something about it. What we are witnessing in my view is the future of global leadership. Not specifically institutional leadership, but a communitarian leadership that genuinely cares for others and is prepared to think, speak and act, in whatever small way, to help another sentient being.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy that will arise from this global pandemic is that we miss this opportunity to recast ourselves, our communities, and our societies. We miss the chance of not only unambiguously seeing, sensing and feeling the extent to which humanity is vulnerable, but we miss the chance to reframe what is truly important to all of us; to feel safe, to be genuinely happy and well, and most importantly to love and be loved. So please, continue “stepping in, stepping up, and running towards” in any way you can as imperfect as it may seem. The single global objective is to simply get better at looking out for and actively, compassionately, helping one another.