caged dog. Photo by Amaya Guizabal on Pixabay

Opinion: coronavirus as window of opportunity

What if…

To say life has changed in recent weeks would not only be an understatement, it would actually greatly trivialise current world events. Who, other than some doom & gloom screen writers and Nostradamus enthusiasts, could have presaged that a non-cellular entity invisible to the naked eye, would be able to cause havoc around the globe?

Within a matter of weeks, more than a third of the world population finds itself either heavily restricted in movement or in total lockdown, with governments deciding who is allowed, when, for how long, and for what reason, to leave the house. SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus), as named by the World Health Organisation in February 2020, is holding the world hostage. Almost over night millions of lives have been turned upside down, with people having paid and will pay the ultimate price. Entire countries are in lockdown, millions have lost jobs and consequently their livelihoods. Schools are closed, shops and factories shut, stock markets are tumbling, industries such as entertainment, travel & tourism are almost non existing and murmurs of an upcoming global recession becoming louder and louder each day. Humankind is finding itself in an unprecedented situation. A situation fuelled by the unknown that is causing many extreme stress, fear and anxiety…a situation that could go on for weeks, months or according to some experts even longer. But then again, right now we can only speculate of things to come, as no one really knows. What has become clear though is that life has changed and for many, it is unlikely to ever be as it was. 

Just imagine, what if, individual government restrictions put in place during the pandemic are here to stay? Would it be realistic to assume that high tech surveillance and digital tracking implemented at great cost to combat the pandemic will simply vanish? Would it be outright naïve to expect police to lose its additionally given COVID-19 powers to restrict movement, stop ordinary people to conduct medical tests, or for doctor-patient confidentiality to cease forever as the precedent has been set in Germany, by doctors passing on test results without consent to police? What else has been and will be passed on? What if, this becomes the new normality?

After all, China has already started rolling out a Social Credit System, with the aim to expand all over China this year. Even for China’s standards, this level of surveillance based on a points system that rewards the “trustworthy” and punishes the “untrustworthy” reaches new heights of autocracy. The “trustworthy” are rewarded with services such as reduced waiting times for hospital appointments to discounted hotel. The “untrustworthy” jay walkers, spitters, and on public transport eating hungry folks are chastised by being refused visas, plane or train tickets, or tables at restaurants. And so are, by mere association, their CHILDREN, who are denied private education or University places.

“But this is Russia, Germany, China. It will never happen here…”  many will argue, having practically begged governments to restrict movement. The idea of constant surveillance and rapid loss of human rights will be shrugged off as a dystopian piece of Orwellian fiction. But then again, who would have thought the earth could stand still?

But what if behind all the chaos and tragedy we are currently faced with, lies a unique window of opportunity? What if we could use this forced upon suspension of “normality” to create lasting, positive change; on a personal as well as on a collective level? Could the very realisation of the vulnerability of our existence become the root of a kinder, more considerate and just society? Chaos, without any doubt creates urgency, and with urgency comes opportunity; opportunity to create neoteric structures, diverse approaches and the chance to eliminate outdated systems and beliefs. The corona virus could indeed turn out to be humankind’s long needed awakening to create a world that includes, respects and protects ALL; regardless of gender, colour, age, species or planet Earth.  

On an environmental level, the shut down of industries, businesses and restrictions to movement has led to a sharp drop in carbon emissions. New York has reported a drop of minus 50% compared to the same period last year, China experienced a drop of an average 25% and as a result enjoyed blue skies; an occurrence reflected by many other locked down industrial cities across the globe that commonly are covered by smog. Birds and bees can be heard in cities again, that any other time would be drowned by the noise of traffic. The completely shut down Venice delighted us when pictures of playful dolphins in the normally murky waters of venetian canals emerged on Social Media. Sadly, this turned out to be fake news, with the photos originating from the Sardinian coast, where dolphin sightings are quite common. Nevertheless, for a brief moment we were allowed to rejoice and witness a newly emerging healthy, balanced environment with clear and cleaner waters… and the very thought of wildlife reappearing, for no other reason but the lack of human activity, filled many with hope.

A shimmer of faith was restored when China decided to close its ethically and morally wrong and stomach turning wet markets and announced, at least, a temporary ban of the wildlife trade. Considering corona, SARS, bird flue and Asian flue are all believed to have originated from Chinese wet markets, common sense would suggest to ban these places of obscene cruelty once and for all. Frankly speaking, no other choice should be given.

Meanwhile, stories from around the world are emerging, highlighting the bettering of conditions for wildlife exploited by tourism. News from an elephant “sanctuary” in Northern Thailand arrived that their elephants, who once were snatched from the wild, trained with iron hooks, constantly beaten and abused for the no other purpose than to fulfil human dreams, are enjoying some out time and are allowed to roam the grounds. They will never experience complete freedom but at least their wooden saddles, each weighing about 325 pounds and causing deep flesh wounds, were removed for the first time in years, due to lack of tourists. Even the controversial Seaworld has closed its doors for the time being. Not making conditions better for its cramped and abused marine life but for a short time, the unnatural and forced performances have stopped.

Realistically though, carbon emission, pollution, animal abuse and the exploitation of our planet will return as soon as the pandemic is under control. It would be outright naïve to think otherwise. But what if, after the initial stage of paralysis, we the human race would, in realisation of our own mortality, start to take stock of our lives. Our actions, our beliefs, our achievements. What if we started to question the choices we made and make? Is the life we have created for ourselves truly what we want? Do 30 pair of shoes, the annual purchase of the newest phone and constant car use, even for the shortest journeys, warrant a 70 hour working? Are the material possessions we have collected what fulfil us or is isolation and social distancing teaching us differently? What if, the corona virus would awaken a new longing for social interaction? Good old fashioned time with loved ones or the urge to reconnect with or build communities again. Communities built on trust and respect that support each other.

For a lot of people this may come organically as their spending power will be decreased or at worst has vanished due to reduced income or lost jobs. This, without a doubt, will hit many hard, yet, this adversity could potentially provide a unique opportunity for new habits to the formed. Habits of sustainability. Repairing and upcycling rather than buying; purchasing local goods, reducing meat intake in favour of fruit and veg or even resurrect bartering. Not only would these approaches save money, they would greatly benefit the environment, rejuvenate a range of dying professions such as cobblers and farmers and form new bonds within communities.

Heike-Wolkerstorfer-and Mr Nelson
The author and Mr Nelson

What if, the corona virus could lead to changes to when we work and where we work? After all, a record amount of people is home officing right now with many finding themselves being more creative, productive and efficient than ever. Now could be the time to recognise that the traditional Monday to Friday 9.00 – 5.00 working culture is a long outdated system for a whole range of professions. For many completely unnecessary in the digital era. What does it matter at what time work is done and where its done from? As long as deadlines are met and the quality of work doesn’t lack, the 9.00 – 5.00 work mentality is a futile exercise, that neither is suitable to the digital era nor considers individual’s circadian rhythms or individual needs.

We are undoubtedly in uncharted waters right now. Brought on by a virus that may or may not turn out to be human kinds biggest challenge. But what if SARS-CoV-2 could be the start of new, exciting and positive change? An opportunity to correct what long needed to be corrected? An opportunity that not only awakens our souls again but also opens our eyes to the effects of our actions? The effects of the constant need for more and more, without any consideration for anyone and anything. As long as our needs are met, the price to pay in the process does not matter. We destroy, we abuse, we exploit and in the race for material ambitions we have lost sight of what is important. But it does matter. After all, the spread of the virus is a product of our doing by raping nature to its very core.

But now, whilst the earth stands still, we are being given a unique chance to put things right and start afresh. Each and every person can now choose what actions, what changes, and what attitude to apply once the earth moves again. Are we trying to hold on to old, outdated habits and beliefs or are we bold and brave enough to stand up and shout enough is enough? What if we would embrace this chaos to create lasting, positive change? What if

“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Heike Wolkerstorfer is an Associate Consultant with The Big Picture Cinema Advisers

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