With astonishing speed, it has taken over our hospitals, our conversations, our news feeds. It has closed our schools and factories, bankrupted businesses, ruined lives. It has made a mockery of our sophisticated systems, our plans, our hopes and dreams. It dominates, controls and threatens our very existence. It is coming for you and coming for me. It lives on death.
Never before has something so large—human civilization—been felled by something so small. Corona is a mini-vampire, sub-microscopic, a life form a hundred times tinier than even bacteria.
The only thing more viral than the virus itself is the fear that it evokes. Fear can divide and diminish us. But when we fight and conquer it together, fear can enlarge us. The age of Corona: the best of times, the worst of times.
In this way, the human reaction to Corona has similarly been one of extremes: either very small or very large. On the one hand, never before have people been so selfish and stupid, ignoring infection-limiting guidelines, panic-buying loo rolls, even abusing and attacking people suspected of being Chinese. Yet the crisis is also bringing out the best in people. Our doctors and nurses face the daily apocalypse with selfless care, kindness and good cheer. People around the world are volunteering, donating, checking up on the vulnerable, doing what they can.
We are completely alone, quarantined, forced into self-isolation and social distance, yet at the same time perhaps never before have we felt so connected, and in need of each other. Family and community matter more than ever. And increasingly, our family is humans and our community is planet Earth.
We truly are all in this together. However bad we feel today, however afraid, anxious, depressed or bereaved, we are actually not alone. Instead of “othering” we might focus on “togethering.” Instead of hating, we can choose to love. We can reach out and reach in. We can give and receive.
Wouldn’t we expect grown-up leaders to do the same? To share knowledge, ideas, information, best practices, resources? To build bridges, not walls? To unite to fight Corona, not each other?
At such times, nationality recedes. Corona isn’t interested in your country’s borders, its reputation, history or your culture. It doesn’t carry a passport nor respect your own.
Global problems need global solutions.
Yet some see this pandemic human tragedy not as an opportunity for solidarity but its opposite. At a time like this, it’s pitiful for governments to blame each other, for the far-right as usual to blame everything on migrants, or for Trump to blame China, Obama, Millennials, the media, and anyone else he can think of. It’s hard to imagine what kind of person responds to the current devastating death toll in Italy with celebratory, deranged Brexiteering.
While politicians prevaricate, bluster and blunder, the virus goes on killing.
History apparently teaches us nothing. The so-called Spanish flu—which probably originated in Kansas—infected a quarter of the world’s population between 1918 and 1920, and killed tens of millions of people—more fatalities than the entire First World War.
Humans and chimpanzees are 96 percent the same, according to DNA studies. How similar then are humans to each other? What is perhaps so striking about our species is not what divides us but what unites us. We are a family. We should act like one. We should respect each other and our planet. We should tackle common problems together. We should care about family members who aren’t doing so well. We might then feel compassion and concern that 70 million of our brothers and sisters are forcibly displaced people, including 26 million refugees, half of them children. We might not feel great about a world where 42 individuals have the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity, 3.7 billion souls.
In the words of Al Pacino, “Either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals.”
Sometimes, it takes a sickness for healing to happen.