Coronavirus: A blessing in disguise? An essay by Mark White

In the midst of a crisis such as the world is experiencing at the moment, it is often difficult to look any further than the end of today. We need to feed ourselves and our families and pay the rent or mortgage to maintain a roof over our heads. These activities are the first and most critical for survival and form the foundations for Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ – a very similar survival pyramid to that observed by Socrates’ in ancient Greece. From that perspective, little has changed in 2,500 years. Food and shelter are primal needs. But actually, quite a lot more has changed in the last few weeks!

Even when we do look further than the end of today, it is hard to say with any real confidence what lies beyond. It’s a scary prospect to look at anything which we cannot reasonably predict.

This new life we are living has been likened to a prison sentence with no release date. We are couped up in our homes, only allowed to go outside for absolutely essential reasons like shopping for groceries, visits to the pharmacy or walking our pets and, probably most difficult of all, we have no idea whatsoever when the prison sentence will end. It is likely to be months rather than weeks before we have this new virus contained, much less under control. Whether the governments of the world relax the social distancing rules in a couple of weeks or extend them beyond that is still up for discussion. Certainly, the consequences of sequestering citizens in their homes for any further extended period could be detrimental to law and order. The vast majority of us only have so much patience with authoritative dictats before we decide to try and take back the freedoms we enjoyed only a few short weeks ago – whatever we perceive those freedoms may be in the weeks and months ahe ad.

Stephen Fry recently posited that we should trust the people who say they don’t know. They at least are being truthful. Those telling us with certainty what the future holds are either delusional or being deceitful – whether for their own purposes or the greater good.

The WHO experts tell us pharmacologists are working flat out to create a vaccine but cannot say with any degree of certainty when the vaccine will become available. The vaccine might protect us from future infection but that is little consolation today (21st March 2020). So, briefly, let’s look a little further down the road than today.

What will the world look like post-Corona? We can barely even hypothesise about the days ahead as everything about our lives changes almost on an hourly basis it seems.

The virus is killing without regard for race, gender, creed or location and now we hear, even age. It is no longer just the elderly with pre-existing conditions that are losing the battle to breath!

Thousands upon thousands of people have lost their jobs in the last few weeks with no apparent prospect of re-employment on the (invisible) horizon. Global economies are increasingly susceptible to these changes and could potentially go into freefall over the next few weeks if not managed responsibly. Certainly, to paraphrase a great Irish poet, all has changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born.

The human condition loves the familiarity of ritual. We primarily perform the same tasks every day and seldom stray from the beaten path. It is in our nature to become comfortable in the relative security of the daily grind. Bring the kids to school, go to work, eat dinner, watch TV, sleep – and do it all over again tomorrow. Weekends provide a little respite but are short and typically lived knowing Monday is coming again soon. When we say we need a holiday we are saying we need a break from the daily grind. Well, Corona has given us a break but it is not a holiday!

Change upsets the vast majority of us, often more than we are willing to admit. It is the uncertainty of not knowing what the future holds that upsets our daily rhythms and puts a spanner in the works of our best-laid plans. But change is inevitable and we are charged with living our lives repeatedly trying to accept the changes that occur – with or without our intervention or consent.

Change most often upsets us when we have not consented to it, when we are not in control of its trajectory and this is most certainly the case with the Coronavirus.

We are living in the technological age where the pace of change has accelerated exponentially – especially compared with the most recent generations that have gone before us. Global travel has become increasing prevalent in the last forty years or so, affording more of us the opportunity to see the world but, it has also exacerbated the spread of this virus across the planet. Social media is keeping us informed and also in touch with our loved ones. There are pros and cons on both sides of the change coin. Appreciating and acknowledging both sides of the coin is vital.

Certainly, when we are released from this prison sentence we are serving at the moment and return to some sort of ‘normal’, we will appreciate the simple freedoms we have. Meeting friends and family for a coffee, walking on the beach, playing and watching our favourite sports, shaking hands. Hopefully, that appreciation will not be temporary but last a bit longer. All too often we celebrate but quickly forget the reason for the celebration once the party ends. Our memory of these days must not fade!

Unusually for me, I end this relatively brief writing excursion with (perhaps a paraphrased version of) the prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola, taught to all students of the Jesuits from a very young age:

Lord, give me the grace to change what I can, accept what I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.

When it comes right down to it we can only change ourselves and hope that the world becomes a better place because of the small changes we make. Coronavirus has provided us all with an opportunity to review the lives we live and the time to decide what changes we would like to make – however small and however insignificant they may appear.

Looking beyond today, it is reasonably certain that the sun will once again rise tomorrow. If and when it does, the world will keep turning – inch by inch, row by row. What part each of us plays in making that world a better place for ourselves and our fellow man depends on whether we have the courage and the wisdom to change…


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