By Jane Bauer
“Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.”
Henry David Thoreau
What does our collective reaction to COVID-19 say about our values? I am home, of course, with lots of time to ponder this question. I have friends who are reposting conspiracy theory videos and interviews with doctors on how best to proceed. There is a ton of information – much of it scientific and hypotheses abound on where we are going with this.
What are we protecting when we stay home? Is it our intense value for human life? I don’t think so. As I write this there have been 212,000 deaths (www.worldometers.info) related to COVID-19 in total. In contrast, this year there have been 270,923 deaths caused by water-related diseases and there are 802 million people with no access to a safe drinking water source. In this one day – today – 14,789 people will die of hunger.
As a species, we have very little value for human life as a whole. We regularly enter into wars that have mass casualties and the majority of us only ‘help’ others to the point that it will not affect our own quality of life. Staying home protects you from the contagion of the outside world. Nothing illustrates the inequality in our economic system than the ability for some of us to stay home in comfort, while others will be devastated economically by this reaction. Putting the world economy on hold is having a debilitating effect on food supply chains, social services that protect women and children, those who live in some sort of limbo and who may in fact not have even have had a home before all this madness. Time will tell how we look back on this world crisis and the long term effects of our actions.
There are currently 70.8 million people who have been forcibly displaced worldwide, and 37000 people are forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict or persecution (www.reliefweb.int). Due to conflict or persecution – it is helpful to note that this conflict and persecution comes from other humans. How have we responded to this? Visit any chat group and you will feel the hatred people have for other people – immigrants and refugees are turned away at borders, branded freeloaders and lazy. As a collective there is nothing humane about humanity.
As a species our most comfortable members have an overblown sense of importance. We prize our individual existence above all else. We just had a disgusting display of survival mode on a global scale as people rushed to stock up on toilet paper and dry goods. I understand. Death can be terrifying since we do not know what awaits us on the other side. Of course religions offer some solace but most of us view death as something to fight against rather than what it is, which is the inevitable for each of us. You will die. I will die. Is it noble to fight so hard?
Buddhism teaches its followers to accept the inevitability of death: “We fail to see and accept reality as it is- with life in death and death in life. In addition the habits of self-obsession, the attitude of self-importance and the insistence on a distinct self-identity separates us from the whole of which we are an inalienable part.” (Buddhist monk Geshe Dabul Namgyal, quoted in The New York Times, Feb. 26, 2020.)
One of the aspects I love so much about Mexican culture is its attitude towards death. I lived beside a small town cemetery for eight years and I learned how to celebrate life and mourn joyfully for those who have departed. Modern day culture has an unhealthy fear of death.
So why is this happening? Culturally we think we are above the connectivity of ourselves with nature. If you don’t believe me just watch some of the protests resisting climate change. Just look at your own life choices; how often do you fly? How much do you pollute? How much do you waste? Nature is smart. We love to post and share feel-good quotes about our connectivity with the universe, but how many of us really live it? We are intricately connected to the natural world around us and you must know in your heart that we are the parasites. The definition of a parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the hosts expense. Sound familiar?
More people died today from human related traumas- hunger, displacement, murder – than from COVID-19. And yet we are completely focused on our individual protection. The human population grew from 1 billion in 1800 to 7.774 billion in 2020. Moreover, each person now consumes in a way that couldn’t even have been imagined fifty years ago. Even with the small (compared to other causes) number of deaths related to COVID-19 we are still putting 100,000 new people on the planet every day!
Nature is always finding balance.
See you in July,
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