An optimist by nature, I always have a tendency to try and imagine the manifold new opportunities that any situation, even a crisis of this magnitude, might reveal. This one is no exception. I am deeply convinced that the current health, economic, and financial crises offer plenty of such opportunities – it will be up to us to seize them once the crisis comes to an end. And I dare to believe that on an individual and collective basis we will seize at least some of them.
The partial or total confinement we currently experience helps us rediscover the innate and vital necessity of human contact; a basic need that, with all the technological evolution of the last decades, we might have neglected or even forgotten.
The present situation further reanimates the importance of our most essential values which we are easily inclined to neglect or even forget altogether, such as:
- The importance of our families: our yearning to love and be loved,
- The undeniable effect of health on our personal welfare and happiness,
- The value of solidarity over individualism and selfishness.
We are also awakening to the real value of some of our most basic needs, such as access to food, clean water, and medication; vital life supports we easily take for granted without reflecting on where they come from, how and where they are produced, what resources are required to produce them. At the same time, we realize that, as suggested by the famous Maslow pyramid, we might just be able to live and even enjoy life without an endless stream of many non-essential or luxury products. We’re returning, at least for the time being, to a simpler and less materialistic world.
As Bill Gates recently noted, we further realize that this health crisis affects all of us equally. It does not discriminate between culture, race, religion, gender, occupation, wealth, or popularity. As such it underlines the true connectedness of our planet: the virus does not stop at our made-up borders, nor does it need a passport to spread.
We are indeed in the midst of re-shaping our society: the crisis is teaching us to not take things for granted, it is re-orienting our relationships to each other and the outside world, it is helping us realize that it is only through joint efforts and concerted action that we can persist, that we can get through this.
And thus, in light of all this, I dare to hope that the biggest gains from this crisis will be:
The huge revival of solidarity, cooperation and discipline
Let’s be honest, many of us believed these values lost, and we’re so delighted to realize that maybe all this goodness was merely dormant inside all of us, waiting to be activated by the disruptive situation we are currently facing. However, let’s not forget that, as Yuval Noah Harari (author of Homo Deus) recently observed, such solidarity requires trust; trust in science, trust in public authorities, trust in the media, and trust in each other.
Much like Harari, I am deeply convinced that the magnitude of the current disruption will contribute to an increased willingness to listen more closely to and appreciate the words, advice, and opinions of our scientists. It will help us to better distinguish between reckless policymakers who tend to ignore, or worse, publicly contradict science and hide crucial information from their citizens, and those who in total transparency and in partnership with leading scientists come up with well-structured and highly efficient protection and defense action plans. It will also allow us to pick out those media companies whose business plan is built entirely around instilling fear in their audience, from those who truly live up to their responsibility of covering the news as impartially as possible and who deliver factual information on bad, as well as good news.
A much-needed revalorization of underappreciated labor
I am indeed pretty confident that the present turmoil allows us to truly grasp the real value of jobs like those of our health workers, but also our firemen, truckers, storekeepers, cashiers, delivery people and so many more. But I also hope that, in the future, we will seriously reconsider the actual added value, or lack thereof, of many other jobs, many of which suffer from a severe disconnect between their remuneration and the actual value they bring to communities. Just as the discussions on impact investing and sustainability are centered around measuring real impact, it might be worth re-assessing the actual impact of diverse jobs on our society and adjust their respective remuneration accordingly.
Nature and the fight against climate change
In the present quarantine situation, an increasing number of people are taking daily walks outside – on their own or as a family – getting the chance to reconnect with nature. Having the possibility to slow down and enjoy the outdoors, our appreciation for the world around us is revived and we are rediscovering the positive impact that nature has on our well-being.
Furthermore, we are all currently witnessing how quickly nature can rebound if we humans give it the chance and time to breathe. A quick look at the comparative pollution maps of China and India allows all of us to assess the extraordinary speed at which nature can bounce back. Thus, I dare to hope that this will help our policy makers adequately assess not only the urgency of their actions, but also the rapid and unmistakable benefits their decisions might have on climate change. I doubt it’s a coincidence that the impact of the present health crisis is most severe in countries like the US or Brazil, where policymakers tend to ignore the alarm calls of climate scientists.
COVID-19, as we know, attacks our lungs, or more precisely the pulmonary alveoli, the exact point where the exchange between air and blood takes place. And we deeply appreciate that in just a few weeks political, economic and financial decisionmakers have, with our full support, developed and launched very concrete action plans and the required financing to fight this virus. And so, one last time, I dare to hope that these same leaders, with the full support of us citizens, will dedicate the same energy and power toward the development and deployment of a similar action plan to cure and save the lungs of our planet: our forests and trees, who have exactly the same function for our planet as our lungs have for us – both being perfectly complementary to each other.