The onset of the novel Covid-19 virus pandemic is proving to be a black swan event for all of mankind. The mass quarantines it has prompted have disrupted every aspect of our daily lives, upended financial markets across the globe, and changed the way we interact with one another. The fear it has engendered has brought out the best and the worst in our fellows: some have laid down their lives − literally − for those in need, while others have scrambled frantically to protect their narrow self-interests, often at the expense of others.
Although tragic, events such as these offer a rare opportunity. The sudden and nearly total break from “normal” gives us a chance to take stock of where we are individually and collectively as human beings on this magnificent blue planet. Rather than playing out our daily routines in a more or less fixed mindset within the context of the societies we’ve built, we have the opportunity to step back for a moment and ask ourselves: “How much of what I typically think about and do from day to day really, truly matters?”
In times of normalcy it is easy to lose sight of fundamental, world-shaping questions such as these. We run to and fro in the earth, busily increasing knowledge, chasing success, and short of that, struggling to pay the bills, but rarely do we stop in such times to ask: “Does what I am doing and what I am allowing to fill my mind and heart really, truly matter?” Or perhaps on a larger scale we might ask, “Is what we hold dear and sacred in our corner of the world truly dear and sacred?”
I’d like to suggest that the world we live in is composed mainly of human constructs, thoughts and ideas that have taken form in such sacred cows like our educational system, our political system, our economic system, etc. In the West we spend roughly a quarter of our lives in an educational system that is designed to prepare us to be productive workers and valuable citizens. The system we have now didn’t always exist, in fact, education has taken many different forms throughout the ages. Just two weeks ago in the United States for example, homeschooling was the alternative, now every student in the country is learning from home. As extreme and rapid as this change was, the world didn’t end.
These constructs of which I speak are everywhere. For example, we are all citizens of a particular country. In my case, I was born in a nation-state called Germany and I am a citizen of the nation-state called the United States of America. My wife was born in and is a citizen of the nation-state called Switzerland. Under the umbrella of our nationalities come certain expectations, beliefs and worldviews. These unite us in some cases, but divide us in others. But even the concept of “countries” or “nation-states” is a relatively new one in the scope of human history, but these constructs seem like they’ve been with us and shaped our identities forever. Regardless, they haven’t and they might not in the future.
Everywhere you look in human function you see these constructs. These patterns of belief coalesce into institutions that shape human identity. Religion is yet another human construct. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, etc. all hold certain beliefs to be true, that is, to be eternal, immutable truths. These patterns of belief inform a worldview, a way of making sense of the world, and they further homogenize into patterns of thought, word, deed, that are reinforced by rituals, symbols, rites and in some cases, bumper stickers. The major religious groups break down into subsets, and while each of them claim to be right, none wishes to be wrong. But even these towering institutions are not immutable. They, too, change with the times.
The point I’d like to make today is that it’s hard when you’re in the middle of something to get an objective view on it. But times like these give us a chance at that rare glimpse outside of the bubble of our current reality. What of all this really, truly matters? Based on the last week or so of your personal experience, is there any of it that you would like to change? Or do you believe that we have we created the very best world we can create for ourselves?
In my opinion, this crisis has deepened my appreciation for the small moments that are all too easily overlooked, for example, the explosive beauty of early spring, the opportunity to think of the well-being of humanity as I wash my hands throughout the day, and the gentle contours of my wife’s delicious smile. It has also caused me to think in different ways about those constructs that I have tended to hold dear that define and separate me from my fellow human beings, from you.
We are in this together. Whether you see it in religious terms or not, we have the privilege of being stewards of this remarkable spinning globe and caretakers of our fellows. The constructs we assemble and agree to individually and collectively make that job easier or harder. Selfish, self-centered thoughts, words, and actions constrain to smallness, pettiness and a worldview clouded by suspicion, doubt, and the conviction of lack. Conversely, selflessness and magnanimity spawn faith, hope, and the experience of abundance.
Which world do you choose to live in?