Coronavirus and the Value of Life

We like to think of ourselves as conscientious, moral people. But COVID-19, or Coronavirus Disease, is exposing our true nature: selfish to the core.

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A woman wearing a face protection mask takes photographs of cherry blossom in St James's Park in London, Britain, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville
A woman wearing a face protection mask takes photographs of cherry blossom in St James's Park in London, Britain, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

2019 was a record year for Dengue Fever in Latin America. Some 3 million people were infected, and 1,500 of them died. Each year, the disease is claiming more and more lives but hardly anyone outside Latin America knows about it. Why? Because it’s Latin America, and in the eyes of the West, Latin American lives are worth less than West European lives or North American lives. If we in the Western World valued Latin American lives the way we value our own, the media would give it due coverage.

Likewise, the coronavirus aroused very little interest as long as it remained inside Mainland China. Would we really be alarmed if the virus killed, say, 100,000 people, or even a million people in China, but did not migrate to other countries? What would it take for us to move uncomfortably in our seats? The answer is not a number, but the identity of the affected.

We like to think of ourselves as conscientious, moral people. But COVID-19, or Coronavirus Disease, is exposing our true nature: selfish to the core. This is why the world started panicking over the coronavirus only when it spread to the rest of the world; this is the sad reality of our lives.

Two Lessons from the Virus

So far, the coronavirus has taught us two very important lessons:

  1. We are all equal in the eyes of nature. Whether you are rich or poor, a tyrant or a servant, the tiny bug could not care less; it’ll hit you just the same.
  2. We are all mutually dependent. We are passing the germ from one person to the next and one person’s irresponsible behavior, even if inadvertently, can cost other people’s lives and numerous others pain and agony.

What the virus will not teach us is how to turn this negative interdependency into a positive one. This, we will have to learn on our own, through our efforts to build a new paradigm of living. If we focus our efforts on improving life for everyone rather than only our own, and often at the expense of others, we will transform our environment, the social and ecological ones.

The pandemic is an opportunity for us to develop a new outlook on ourselves, to envision success not as a triumph over others, but as empowerment of society as a whole. True, this thinking goes against our nature, but nature itself is going against our nature nowadays, so we had better start thinking outside the box. If we don’t change our mode of thinking, reality will force us to, and much more painfully.

Coronavirus Disease is a prelude to a stream of ordeals that will befall humanity until we’re willing to become mutually responsible on the social and ecological levels. It does not take a lot to see that the virus is a test to our mutual consideration. Look at how China reacted in the beginning of the outbreak, pretending that the virus was no big deal, and look how it has managed to slow down its spread—by placing everyone in quarantine until the spreading dwindles. And it worked. Look at how Italy initially dismissed the danger, and look at the catastrophic results.

Now we need to take the mandatory mutual responsibility to the next level and start reaping its fruits. We can do much more than heal society from the virus. We can heal it from the spreading alienation, loneliness, and depression that have plagued our societies long before the virus. All it takes is our willingness to accept that we are responsible for one another.

Cherish the Difference

If we accept mutual responsibility, we will learn to cherish each other’s differences. Our unique characters will no longer separate us; they will connect us and will give each of us unique ways to contribute to society, which no one else will be able to give.

Questions of race or gender equality will become extinct since each person will be priceless. How can you evaluate a person who has unique qualities that no one else has, and who is ready and willing to use those qualities to benefit all of society? Will it matter if that person came from Latin America, China, or Germany? Will it matter if that person is well educated or not, rich or poor, black, white, or yellow? None of it will matter. All that will matter is that that person has a priceless gift to give to all of us. This is the reality of people living in mutual responsibility.

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