Ever since the outbreak of coronavirus, panic has spread all across the globe. In order to contain the spread of the virus, many nations have adopted the social-distancing strategy. At this juncture, as I am self-quarantined at home, like most of us are, I have been thinking about a few key lessons that we can learn from this new reality.
The first and immediate lesson is to understand that we humans are innately relational. The novel coronavirus is contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The rate of volatility of the virus is high if the people do not maintain physical distance. All of us have to take precautionary measures, irrespective of religion, caste, race and creed.
In short, we can exercise freedom, but only within boundaries – which shows that freedom is also relational. We exercise freedom in relation to others. To put it simply, an individual is free only when he, she or they have a healthy relationship with others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, late German Theologian and an anti-Nazi dissident, said:
“Freedom is a relationship between two persons. Being free means ‘being-free-for-the-other’, because I am bound to the other. Only by being in relation with the other am I free.”
‘Health is not private’
The second lesson that comes to us loudly is that good healthcare must be accessible to all and it isn’t a private entity. India spends only a small 1.28% of its GDP (2017-18) for public healthcare, but our per capita expenditure has only been seeing a rising curve.
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Therefore, it is imperative to proactively work towards a well planned, robust healthcare infrastructure, build human resources and affordable public health care facilities for all the citizens. It’s high time the government realised the tremendous importance of public healthcare.
‘Meaning of life’
Third, we need to think where our ultimate hopes lie. Both as a nation and as communities and individuals. What do we pin our hopes to – success? Wealth? Power?
Similarly, people have started taking refuge in all sorts of traditional and religious rituals to contain the spread of the pandemic. Can such steps really protect us from the threat of the virus?
Why are nations, which have the best of religious traditions, weapons, wealth, technology and information, still lost as much as, if not more, than others?
Isn’t this the time to question our existential purpose? Where do we find the ultimate meaning of life?
‘Earth needs to rest’
The fourth lesson that I could derive is that even our planet needs to rest. Our greed, our desires, our wants constantly motivated by the competitive and capitalistic world have exploited our planet to an alarming extent. Maybe it’s time for nature to clean herself.
What stares at us are those fundamental questions: how human beings are supposed to conduct lives in accordance with nature, how care is to be shown to the environment too. How much is too much to consume?
‘Power of citizens’
The fifth and final lesson that I could draw is the tremendous power of citizens. A society cannot be changed by the efforts of the government alone, nor without our unity and cooperation. We are seeing it right before our eyes. Shall we let this pandemic make us realise the real power of thoughtful and responsible citizens of a society and what we can accomplish?
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I hope we all may have learnt our own lessons too. What if we take this as an opportunity to see those faces we had ignored for so long, keep physical distancing, share our love and wealth, feed the fellow humans who are dying out of hunger, provide shelter to the homeless, pay our maids and labourers, and waive the rental fee of those who cannot afford to pay due to the lockdown, speak up for those neglected.
Unfortunately, social-distancing could be a privilege for only a few in our nation. We may be separated by distance, but can we connect by our hearts and spirit? Can we forget to hate and remember to love? We might say,“I wish it never happened in our life, not in our generation”.
I wish the same, but the bigger question is – what to do with the time that is given to us now?
Apilang Apum is assistant professor at Jomin Tayeng Government Model Degree College at Roing, Arunachal Pradesh.
Featured image credit: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash