We are publishing submissions about the COVID-19 crisis from readers daily on NewPhilosopher.com in the hope that it can help us all make sense of what is happening, and as a historical record of how it made us feel. Here are your thoughts, from around the world.
By Marielle Cummings, Tennessee, USA
As over a hundred million of us adjust to what it means to suddenly work and gather less or not at all, guide our behavior based on what is best for the common good, and even spend and consume less so that others have enough, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create a new social order in America. After Corona (AC), we have a chance to build systems that buck the bootstrap mythology that countless Americans can tell you is not a right but a privilege akin to winning the lottery. What if, AC, we acknowledge that our rugged, American individualism was historically our top commodity and we take a moment, to celebrate how that story motivated millions of us, including my own family, to emigrate to America in search of prosperity and to contribute meaningfully to our society, while simultaneously mourning for all those who we have lost and oppressed in this system. Let us reconcile with that together, for as long as we need to, and at the very least devote a national holiday to honoring the resilience of those who have been systematically oppressed for hundreds of years in this country. It is on their backs that our nation has picked itself up, time and time again. We need to get to work manifesting our new American dream that ensures that our government, systems, and society protect and advance our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
So where do we start? We start with where we are. We take this moment at home, alone or with our loved ones, to look within. Who are we fundamentally? Are we workers, defined by the ever increasing busyness of our schedules and the level of exhaustion that we volley back and forth at each other as a signal of our value? Is our job as humans to fulfill the needs of the job market? Is our job as parents to create citizens that are of economic value to society and that fulfill the needs of their country? Maybe you answered “yes” to one or both of those questions. That is ok. There is room for all of us in the new social order. But to create space for those who answered “no” to those questions, it is time to consider that we, despite our many efforts to standardize our capabilities, are not machines, and will never be as effective in executing tasks as the cutting edge of artificial intelligence. We are hard wired to survive, connect with one another, create, and seek meaning. The greatest gift that we can give in our lifetime is to foster our unique potential to impact the world in the way that only we can and to understand that when any one person’s ability to realize their unique potential is jeopardized, we all are jeopardized. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” In other words, we are all interconnected.
Here we are temporarily living out norms that are in stark contrast to the American way of life. We are being told that literally, in order to survive and protect the lives of others, we must adjust our lifestyle dramatically and place the needs of others beyond our own—buying less at the grocery store so that others have enough and withholding from engaging in the social experiences that so many of us derive a sense of fulfillment from (whether athletics, performances, eating out, drinking out, gathering together to talk and make meaning). More and more Americans are being told that they can no longer make their living the way they did before or must lessen their work. For many in this country, this has fed tremendous anxiety around not being able to make ends meet not six months from now but right now. We were already hanging on a thread.
Is there any silver lining in all this? I see several. We are taking more time to be present with our children, our parents, our colleagues, and loved ones and appreciating their humanity whether in person or through a screen. We are realising that the only free, universally accessible space that we have available right now is nature. As the number of people impacted by Coronavirus, restrictions, empty grocery shelves, and economic repercussions abound, we have an opportunity to feel grateful for what we do have, whatever that is. We are being reminded of our inherent worthiness, not because we are a worker, or any other way that we identify ourselves, but because we just are.
How do we ensure that our government and systems protect and advance our unalienable rights? We ask ourselves questions that help us understand the future we seek. For example, we could take a moment to picture the best possible version of America and with that vision in mind ask “What do We need to thrive?” And then ask a follow-up question, “What do We already have that we could use to support that vision?” This approach allows us to design the government and systems around the needs of Americans, the sole purpose for which they exist, versus Americans designing their lives around the government and systems. Through this lens, we also are more inclined to understand that we possess many of the assets we need to create our ideal future, that as President Barack Obama proffered “We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” and need not relinquish our power to the powerful few. We can apply this approach to the economy, health care, education, our climate, and any other hot button issue. What would result is a reality where we are all able to get what we need in order to realize our unique potential, otherwise known as “equity.”
Could this be the moment when we come to understand how our capacity to thrive is intertwined with that same capacity of one another and our earth? And with this new awareness, what are we going to do? Are we going to jump back into business as usual AC, or are we going to create a better world for you and me?