The Coronavirus Pandemic: A Needed "Course Correction?"

The pandemic may help prepare for other disasters, and for a better world.

Posted Aug 04, 2020

The scourge of the coronavirus pandemic has descended upon us. 

At this very moment in time, well over seven billion human beings throughout our tiny planet are all being sorely tested: Our lives have been upended, our behaviors modified, our thoughts preoccupied, our moods labile, our relationships difficult and our outlooks more uncertain. We are feeling much less secure about our health and safety and more wary about our future. 

To be sure, millions of us have been dealing with the severe challenges wrought by COVID-19 with patience and equanimity. But as time has passed and constraints have increased, more people have found themselves in dire straits, and many are overwhelmed.

People tend to be respectful and civil with each other, but when we are under severe stress, some are prone to negative behaviors, like rudeness, intolerance, and confrontation. 

Unpleasant social behaviors existed before the pandemic, but the coronavirus has greatly increased our sense of unease. Rudeness and aggression are apparent in the public sphere, where some politicians and pundits characteristically insult and rage. Even in our daily lives, we see negative behaviors at social and business events, in offices and stores, in the streets and homes.

Angry people give off negative vibes that permeate our lives and disturb our moods, and confrontational styles of discourse become models for our youth to emulate. There is increased “noise” in our social system, a cacophony of internal preoccupying worries and external audible incivilities.  

When displays of incivility become the norm, we are in serious trouble as individuals and society. They infect the social atmosphere and spread via “social contagion”: Conflict is metaphorically “in the air” we inhabit, just as the coronavirus is literally “in the air” we breathe.

The coronavirus has imposed a surreal existence upon us. Uncomfortable worries add a burdensome heaviness to our outlooks. We are uncertain about our quarantines and health, remote schooling, economic hardships, and our future.

We are all sequestered at home and our lives are constrained, but some are particularly overwhelmed by oppressive circumstances: Impoverished families in crowded tenements; single mothers with young children at home; unemployed men and women; elderly or infirm people confined to small apartments or rooms; students learning online with little access to the internet, and others in dire straits. Many are alone and isolated, feeling sad and vulnerable. 

When people are preoccupied with their own or loved ones’ lives, many become anxious and fearful, while others are prone to selfishness and anger. This pandemic has caused significant increases in stress-induced behaviors (alcohol and drug use, outbursts, meltdowns, confrontations), mental illness (anxiety, depression, panic, suicide) and incidents of domestic anger, verbal abuse and physical violence.

And yet…

Major tragedies can also bring out humanity’s natural benevolent tendencies. Our challenges can foster empathy and unity, and engender acts of kindness and cooperation

In that vein, the most important acts now for ourselves and others are the public health mandates of wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding crowds. 

But even when a vaccine and medications finally enable us to vanquish this viral foe, we are still left with “us,” the same tribal human beings and nations who have been too self-interested and materialistic, mistrustful and antagonistic. 

We are being “warned”: We can be decimated by new lethal viruses, or by looming global warming, already giving us signs of potential disasters (wildfires, sea levels rising, storms). Or we can be eradicated by our human self-destructive tribal aggression and violence. 

This pandemic can also serve as a wake-up call for humanity, and we do have cause for optimism: Our species has shown itself throughout the millennia to be blessed with resourcefulness, adaptability, creativity, and resilience. We have the ability to prepare for and stave off dangers, and achieve a better and more equitable existence.

You have heard (perhaps uttered) the words, “We are all in this together.” This pandemic is one of the few times in recorded history when people all over the world — rich and poor, all races, religions, and ethnicities — now billions now of us in every country and continent experiencing the same threats from a singularly dangerous, lethal, invisible “enemy.” 

The vast improvements in communication enable a feeling of kinship, an empathic connection with our fellow human beings throughout the planet. This crisis can serve as a wake-up call for a dramatic “course-correction.” 

This could be an opportunity for humankind to modify and improve its self-destructive tendencies. This global pandemic could serve as an impetus for change, pointing us to a more just and equitable, better world for our species and the planet itself.

As inhabitants of this threatened world, we, as citizens and nations, have important choices to make. We can give in to the darker sides of our natures and evince selfishness, intolerance, aggression, and other traits that are ultimately self-destructive to us and to our world. 

Or: We can strive to live, work, and play together in mutual support, tolerance and cooperation. We can work as individuals — and as nations — towards leaving a benevolent “Positive Emotional Footprint,” while we are alive and as a legacy when our time here is over.

My hope and plea is that the United Nations take “Living Together in Harmony” as an overarching goal, an integral part of its basic mission. Nations and individuals could work towards “Peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards All.”

These are not merely “Pie In the Sky” musings: These are “Do or Die” imperatives.