The corona virus lockdown is an opportunity for us to reassess our lives
The disruption caused by the COVID-19 global epidemic has not just been economic or medical, the epidemic has disrupted our way of thinking about what is important and essential and what is ‘normal.’
Although many people are still in denial about the seriousness of the epidemic, it is widely recognised that this is a war, and those who are fighting on the frontline are health professionals and essential workers. This is a war against an enemy which is so insidious that it can claim anybody no matter how rich and powerful they be. When the British prime minister was hospitalised last week it sent shock waves around the country and the world, because up until then it was assumed that, somehow, he would be only mildly affected by the virus. Boris Johnson is being treated at an NHS hospital in London, and perhaps now he and those of his ilk are beginning to understand the value of supporting a public health service like the NHS which his party has been so busy undermining and eroding ever since 2010.
But as we face the uncertainty – financial and social – which the lockdown to control the epidemic has created, we need to regard this time as a tremendous opportunity. This is an opportunity. And I don’t mean opportunity as in a chance to profiteer or exploit the financial uncertainty and invest in things that will yield profits, I mean an opportunity to reassess the way we live and the lives we have led.
Our lives before The Virus were chaotic and needlessly exhausting. We were functioning frenetically merely to fuel a system. We had become something like what the groundbreaking film The Matrix imagined people to be in a dystopian future: humans unwittingly trapped in an artificial reality which uses their bodies as an energy source. In that story the system had become more powerful than the humans and it had duped them into believing that this was the way they chose to live their lives. In reality it was all enforced. Because now as we see the skies clear up and the song of the birds become louder and sweeter, and now that we do not have the constant buzz of traffic assail our ears and the air we breathe is cleaner, and now that we discover how much work we can do remotely without the hassle of commuting we are able to realise how many things about life before The Virus were actually unnecessary.
When this is all over, societies and countries will have an opportunity to rethink their future. Hopefully, the crisis will make people realise what are the essentials that their government should provide to all: security, water, broadband, municipal services, universal healthcare, a system of welfare support and the availability of basic food supplies. Food rationing might be a fairer way to go forward, and I for one sincerely hope that we do not go back to a time of food waste and excess. We’ll also need to rethink how education will be imparted and what work will look like as we’ve seen how things can actually function quite well remotely. Presumably we’ll have more mandatory health checks and certificates before any sorts of travel and hopefully air travel will be much reduced. And hopefully societies and government will stop treating people providing essential services (cleaning the streets, collecting garbage, stacking food shelves, working in hospitals - in any capacity) with derision (‘unskilled’ will be upgraded to ‘essential’). We will abandon the expectation of plenty and the fetishisation of capitalist ‘choice’; stop taking food availabilty for granted; and start growing and producing more of what we need locally and we will make careful choices based on what we have learnt during the lockdown.
The lockdown has provided an opportunity for all of us to reflect deeply on what we want from this life. In a way we are very lucky that it has come at this time of year as we are less than two weeks away from Ramazan (aka Ramadan). I say we are ‘lucky’ because this year the month can be spent in real introspection with true appreciation of what we may previously have taken for granted. Instead of the excess that has recently characterized the month (excess of food consumption at iftar, excess of bad tempers and inefficiency during the day, excess of Eid related spending all month long), we can now spend time in quiet reflection and prayer, we can share whatever little we have and truly appreciate whatever food or drink we get. We can enjoy not feeling the frantic need to congregate, ‘see-and-be-seen’ and FOMO and instead use the time to reconnect with our families and look for ways in which we can somehow serve those who need our help.
This is a time to detox. Just as the lockdown has regenerated the climate and the natural world, so too can it be regenerative for human society. We can use this period to detox our lives and our expectations. Because this lockdown has forced us to spend time with ourselves and to look ourselves in the face. Now is when we choose what we want our countries to look like tomorrow. If, of course, we are still there in life after The Virus.