Spiritual systems tell us that humans are all connected. Just as trees are connected through their roots, individual human lives are all interwoven. When we let this sink into us deeply we’ll be able to do what is needed to get us through this crisis.
We’ve thought of this realization as an advanced spiritual insight. It’s not available to everyone. It’s an aspiration. “I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one,” John Lennon sang. Well, the pandemic has accelerated our timetable. It turns out the survival of our species depends on our ability to rebuild our lives around this truth.
This is a chance for us to get it right. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted human life around the globe. Some of us are confined to our houses. Some of us are on the front lines in grocery stores and delivery trucks making sure everyone stays fed. The hospitals are filled with doctors and nurses and janitors and administrators risking their own lives to care for the sick and staring down the heart rending choices of triage. How we respond to this varies from person to person. Some are in denial, some are indifferent, many of us are anxious or actively frightened. Whatever we are doing, however we feel, all of us are affected.
There’s a great longing to return to the life we knew before the virus hit. We all want to meet our friends and shop for groceries and go to the gym. We want to go to work and make money and pay bills and travel for fun. We want to be able to move around freely without fearing that this is going to kill us.
This is an achievable goal. We can get there. Together we can create a baseline human culture that supports everyone’s freedom and health. It’s clear though that we can’t go on doing business the way we have been. We can’t pretend any one of us can live our splendidly free lives without support from anyone else. We can’t pretend every choice we make has consequences only for ourselves and not for anyone else. We are confronted with the reality that we are all connected. No one of us is free unless all of us are free. No one of us is healthy unless all of us are healthy.
Every person is valuable. There is no person drawing breath today who is expendable. Our first and most important task is to understand this. Our second most important task is to tell the people around us that we value them. We will stand with each other, every one. No one gets voted off the island. No one gets tossed off the lifeboat. No one is crowded off the earth because we were indifferent. Everyone is cared for. Everyone has a place.For my own well being I need everyone around me to be okay. I need every person to have a place to live and money to pay the bills. I need every person to have health care. This isn’t a new insight for me – I’ve been a human rights activist for some time. What’s changed is that it’s becoming clear to more of us that this isn’t just an ideological nicety. Caring for everyone is a matter of human survival.
Just to make this super clear: breaking the chain of virus transmission requires us to isolate from each other temporarily. We need to shelter at home. So where do the homeless shelter? My county has documented the severe need for homeless shelter but struggled to provide it. With this emergency there are now two centers open for people who have no other place to shelter and isolate. We got that done quickly when it became clear that our health is connected to the health of the homeless.
The work we value has been shaken up. It turns out that we don’t need athletes or middle managers or billionaire CEOs on a day to day basis. We do need store clerks and truck drivers and farmers and medical workers. We are vitally connected to their labor. They’re the ones keeping us alive and making sure we eat. Let’s pay them what their work deserves.
It is an urgent priority to center health care. We need medications, equipment, a hospital bed for every human being. We need annual check ups with personal doctors. In America we’ve treated these things as if they have to be earned out before they are deserved. We’ve turned medical care into a profit center. We’ve tolerated egregious costs for medication, denying benefits, forcing people to work when they’re sick. Now that we’ve been forced to reckon with the costs of those decisions we have rolled out new systems with no notice. The need for these will not vanish when the virus is contained. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can move around again.
In the very short term we need masks and gloves for everyone. A masked society is a functioning society. We need tests for everyone, cheap and available on demand. When we administer two tests two weeks apart, people who test for antibodies can go back to work.
In our isolation each of us has some soul searching to do. What do we do that the people around us genuinely need? How have we contributed to a world where a virus cost so many lives? When we get a chance to move around again, what can we do to make sure we’ll continue to be free? The answers to these questions will help us get it right next time, so the next crisis gets handled elegantly as part of our normal lives.