Over the past year there has been no shortage of looming disasters that pose a serious threat to humanity including uncontrollable wild fires and forest fires precipitated by climate change, and the dangers of an accidental plunge into nuclear war as a result of miscalculation and brinksmanship. The recent outbreak of a novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is now likely to become the pandemic that we have been fearing for some time. Although much is still unknown about the virus, what experts do know is that it is extremely contagious, like the infamous 1918 Spanish flu that infected approximately one third of the world’s population and killed between 20 and 50 million people, and that the new virus’ likely mortality rate is 1% to 3% of those infected. While the threat to human life is already engendering fear and anxiety, knock-on impacts to the global economy are likely to be just as severe. To contain the virus borders are being closed, flights canceled, whole towns locked down, factories and schools closed, and sporting, entertainment, trade-show, and other large events canceled. In a world as interconnected as ours is, such restrictions disrupt manufacturing and retail supply chains, with the dual effect of threatening access to supplies and potentially causing a global recession.
It is no wonder that our typical response is either to feel fearful, helpless, apathetic, and sink into despair or to feel angry, frustrated, and quick to blame someone else — the people of some other country, health officials, or even our neighbors and friends who unwittingly carry the infection and expose the rest of us to it. While such reactions are understandable given the level of risk associated with the spread of the coronavirus, and the many uncertainties that accompany its spread, in reality both reactions are destructive and do not serve us. Moreover, when we feel helpless or angry and blame others, our perceptions of the options available to us tend to be blinkered. When we need to be most creative and energetic in crafting constructive responses and solutions, we become apathetic, depressed, and anxious. We also become more prone to a fight-or-flight response and to conflict with others. All of these emotions ultimately lead either to inaction, delayed or half-baked action with too little done, too late, or to endless blame-games that, in the end, also do not help us meet the challenges at hand.
Helpless or Empowered?
What if instead of viewing these same events, including the spreading coronavirus, as looming disasters, we were to view them as a supreme opportunity for humanity to finally learn to communicate in a spirit of goodwill and transparency, and to cooperate and collaborate on finding workable solutions that benefit us all? What if instead of viewing other nations and their actions as enemies and threats, we viewed them as indispensable and valuable allies with whom to join forces in the fight against a global threat? Commentators like David Ignatius of the Washington Post and experts like the editors of Nature Medicine are starting to suggest that the coronavirus presents us with a unique opportunity to do just this. For this to happen we need to change our perspective on social reality from seeing disparate nations each concerned exclusively and foremost with its own well-being to seeing a single global organism, a single global community that is interconnected in much the same way that the limbs and organs of the human body are connected. Just as it would be nonsensical and futile for the liver to claim that it was not concerned about the health of the kidneys because it was focused first and foremost upon its own well-being, and just as the heart could never be truly healthy in a body where the lungs were riddled with disease, so, too, is it nonsensical and futile for individual countries and social groups to claim and act solely or even primarily without regard for the consequences and benefits to other countries and groups. What if we understood that the only way to guarantee the well-being and health of any one of our nations requires ensuring the well-being of all nations? Such a shift in perspective would reveal new ways of organizing our global community, of decision-making and behavior that open up new and effective pathways to addressing the seemingly intractable challenges of our time.
Such a shift in perspective requires both awareness and acceptance of the reality of our unprecedented interconnectedness as a global community of nations and of the imperative to act together collaboratively in order to solve collective challenges. It also requires us to acknowledge that we have the power to make different, more empowering choices. I will elaborate further on these thoughts in subsequent weekly blogposts that are part of a new series about indispensable mindsets and habits that will bring us the global peace we so dearly want. Please stay tuned.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.