We are living through a pandemic that occurs in the information age—an age that “boasts” more news outlets, more experts, and ultimately more opinions than probably any previous age.
This means we have to deal not only with hordes of troublesome microorganisms but also with an infodemic—and the panic, anger, and discrimination that come with it.
Avoiding consuming too much news these days could prove to be just as important as following the Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice provided by the World Health Organization. Clean hands are not be enough—we also need clean minds.
Boring news doesn’t sell. It doesn’t generate views and clicks. Today, all it takes to publish and spread information is a computer and internet access. Intelligence, good sense, calm—all these are optional.
As to expert advice, opinions vary so widely at this stage that it’s hard to see things clearly. Things are serious, people are dying, and we have to be careful—that much is clear. But as far as predictions go, things are up in the air.
From what we know so far, you are much more likely to survive the coronavirus if you catch it than to die from it.
But the coronavirus may affect the way you interact with others. It may affect the way you work and travel. It may affect your income.
It may even make you rethink what is important in your life, whether working or studying abroad is really necessary, whether you really need to travel that much.
It may make you think about how much you owe society, and how much society owes you. It may make you think about whether you can help others in any way.
Now let’s be frank about all this.
We can’t blame it on the Chinese. We can’t blame it on the Italians either. We can’t even blame it on the bats and the pangolins, if it really came from them.
We can’t because we’re smart enough to know that pandemics have happened throughout the history of our species and that they will keep on happening.
Each century has its diseases and, sometimes, its pandemic(s). Each generation has its challenges to overcome.
Things are serious, but wouldn’t you rather stay at home because of the coronavirus than take part in a nuclear war?
Shakespeare comes to mind: “The worst is not, so long as we can say, “This is the worst.”
Maybe the coronavirus is one way the planet is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that we’ve created conditions for such a virus to spread.
That flocking to Milano, Paris, or Vienna to Instagram ourselves instead of exploring the hidden corners of our country first is not all that cool.
That filling office spaces with workers who could just as easily work from home (at least some days of the week) is not ideal.
That crowding shopping malls on weekends is regrettable.
Maybe the coronavirus is something of a wakeup call, something of a blessing in disguise.
Maybe it will show us that the pillars on which our economy is built are not strong enough—that they are prone to shake whenever fear sets in.
(How much have the stock markets fallen today?)
Maybe it will help us understand that some things about our civilization, great as it is, could be changed or improved. That some of our habits, as a species, are harmful to others and for the planet, too.
And maybe it will also make us realize how underprepared we are for death, how seldom we ponder the fragility of life, how most of the things we do in life are just ways to forget what is, at the end of the day, our biological destiny.
Maybe it will also make us appreciate more that small percentage of the population that in times of emergency we trust with our lives—doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, other healthcare workers.
Maybe it will also show us how strong we are when we share a common goal and each of us does his or her part, even if it’s but a small one, even when all that we must to do is stay home and get bored instead of going out chasing a dragon to slay.
Because in our time, the dragons seem to have become invisible. In our time, the dragons are smarter than they used to be and subtler, too. They are microorganisms, but not only that—they are also thoughts and ways of doing things and old habits that may not be viable anymore. For us or the planet.
Maybe the coronavirus will show us that we are strong, strong not in war, like our grandfathers were, but strong in our care and our consideration. Strong in our prevention.
Or maybe it will just pass in a month or two, and then life will go back to normal, and we will all pretend it wasn’t such a big deal until the next virus comes along, one that could be not just “6 times worse than the flu” but 50 times worse.
The fox in the Little Prince comes to mind:
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Isn’t that last bit true today?
If you read the Bible, the Quran, or some other holy book, good for you.
But remember Darwin, too.
Life is greater than the Catholic Church or the carnival in Venice.
It’s greater than the NBA season and the UEFA Champions League.
It’s greater than globalization and international travel and shopping malls.
It’s greater even than supermarket queues for toilet paper.
Life is evolution.
And if now you’re buying inordinate amounts of toilet paper, or going about the streets despite being advised by your government not to, or lying about your travel history and spreading the virus that you may not even know you carry to others more vulnerable than you, then are you really part of evolution?
If trees could speak, you know what they’d tell us now?
“Sometimes, evolution is not about running places,” they would say. “Sometimes, evolution is about standing still.”