The Chinese word 机会 has two meanings: (1) crisis, and (2) opportunity. The current global pandemic embodies both meanings – it presents an international health crisis threatening the welfare of billions of humans, of all ages, but also a truly historic opportunity for us all.
We should embrace that opportunity – to improve the future for all inhabitants of the planet Earth.
President Donald Trump, speaking at Friday’s news briefing, described “the Chinese virus” as “the invisible enemy,” and declared, repeatedly, that “We will win this war,” invoking his well-worn use of superlatives and demonization of foreigners who threaten the safety and well-being of “the American People.”
Then, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar unleashed a litany of all the wonderful, fantastic, heroic, unprecedented, foresighted and brilliant things our Great & Supreme Leader has done, from the outset of “the Chinese virus,” to protect us, the American People.
But while the politicians in our nation’s capital continue spewing the rhetoric of “Us versus Them,” and espouse the need to protect “Our People” from a rapidly spreading contagion that has long since arrived in our country, the reality is far different.
It is not “the Chinese virus,” but the Global Virus. Where it originated is irrelevant. We’ve all got it; or, at least as things stand presently, we could all contract it.
That’s why the World Health Organization, the United Nations, European Union and multiple other multi-national and international organizations are, collectively, urging all humans to “shelter in place,” avoid gatherings of 10, 25, or 50 or more people, and to take other precautionary and common sense preventive steps, to reduce the risk that all of our health care systems will be overrun, and potentially tens or hundreds of millions will die.
Yes, the present crisis — the Global Virus — threatens the health and safety of all of us, regardless of nationality, gender, religion, age or wealth.
So, how does this present an opportunity? And how can we seize that opportunity?
The present world pandemic — requiring all peoples, in all nations and states, to “social distance,” “self-isolate,” (i.e., stay in their own homes) for days, weeks and months to come – is the singular most unifying event in modern history. Even more so than the last such historic event, the terrorist attacks of 9-11.
At that time, as now, the entire world, it seemed, shared the common experience of having been attacked. As if everything we all took for granted had suddenly been taken from us, in an instant, and the world-as-we-knew-it no longer made much sense, or even existed any longer.
So it is, again, today. And, like in a Sci-Fi movie where the intergalactic aliens pose an existential crisis to the entire planet Earth, such moments present a unique opportunity for us – all of us, not only we Americans – to work together, in collaboration, to combat the common enemy. And to make the world that survives this crisis a better one.
Like no other time in any of our experiences, today we are all looking out for ourselves and our loved ones, fearing for our and their safety.
So, we are huddled inside our homes, with no sports, mass gatherings (at schools, gyms, museums, concerts, theaters, restaurants, pubs, town squares, churches, mosques, synagogues, etc.) to feed our souls.
And yet, perhaps ironically, we are all, increasingly, turning to one another for the basic human necessity of comraderie, laughter, social interactions and, yes, charitable mutual aid, via the internet, email, text messaging and ordinary phones. While we stay isolated physically, we are interconnecting, more and more, virtually.
Social distance but virtual closeness. And these human connections recognize no geographic or national boundaries.
That, I believe, is the real opportunity. A chance for all the world’s people to come together to beat this thing. Through collective effort. Through basic human compassion, caring and mutual respect. Not demonization. Not “they caused this thing,” or “it’s their fault.”
Let’s begin by strengthening the collective spirit through sharing information and our own resources – cold hard cash – to help one another.
Please give, generously, to relief organizations and to local businesses and hourly-wage earners who have no health insurance, no savings, no paid medical leave, no childcare and often, not enough food to feed their families.
Then, let’s build upon this moment of collective engagement against a common enemy not only to defeat COVID-19, but to tackle other threats to our collective well-being and, indeed, survival.
Global climate change. Hunger/Famine. The international drug trade. Human trafficking. The destruction of the oceans’ ecosystem by plastics, pollution and over-harvesting of certain wildlife.
Each of these “pandemics” are equally global in their reach and impact. Each of them require all of us, not only our government “leaders,” to combat and “defeat,” collectively.
So let’s embrace the current crisis for what it is: a tremendous, course-of-history-altering opportunity, to break down the barriers between us, as people . . . to grow, to evolve rapidly as presently conditions require, and to realize and act upon the realization that We Are All In This Together (#WAAITT), and that we must all, therefore, pitch in to Save Our Planet (#SOP).
In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, there was an almost universal outpouring of sympathy and concern for the American people, whose centers of commerce and government had been so barbarously attacked.
But the opportunity that tragedy presented, for building global unity and cooperation, was quickly squandered by the understandable human instinct to “hold those M-F’ers accountable,” to “strike back” and to “exact vengeance” upon the true “evil-doers.” And, of course, religious bigotry and racism, too, played their part.
But this opportunity must not be similarly squandered. This pandemic is not “their fault.” It’s not Trump’s fault. It’s not the WHO’s fault or the fault of the Chinese. If the current pandemic began in Toledo, Ohio, or in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, would not matter one wit.
And if it were not COVID-19, it would be some other potentially lethal strain, some other time. Could some world leaders and organizations have done a better job than they have, or currently are doing, to reduce the spread and impact of the virus? Of course.
But this is not the time to look back, and lay blame (though we should certainly learn from this experience to prevent or reduce the risk of future pandemics).
Instead, we should #LOOKAHEAD, and take collective action, now, to ensure that the world that survives the current crisis is a #BETTERPLACE than the one that preceded it.
Steve Zansberg lives in Denver and is a resident of planet Earth.