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What humanity needs in 2020

I have many feelings regarding this Covid-19 epidemic, the Coronavirus strain that has upended manufacturing cycles, travel plans, and conference schedules around the world. But as I’ve reflected on everything, I’ve discovered gratefulness. Why? I think that the unforeseen collateral ramifications of this pandemic is exactly what the world needs right now.

Let me explain what I mean.

Any regular follower of RCB podcasts, blogs or anything else will know that in the last few months, there have been two important ideas running through every single post:

  1. family and friends, and
  2. the need to slow down

Covid-19 is doing that already, and the benefits of re-thinking this crazy existence we’ve been living for so long is possibly the best thing for mankind right now.

Full disclosure: it’s the end of school term 1, 2020, and all that goes with it in schools and families. Along with that, the Calders lost a close friend to a senseless car accident. I am philosophical about all things in my life and the world as I reflect.

Let me be clear: I’m not advocating illness. This is a pandemic, and it is serious. Or rather, as someone put it, it’s an info-demic. That is, because of social media and the pace at which news travels, we’re now all overnight experts in all sorts of things. Seemingly. Or perhaps not.

Coronavirus is no more serious than HIV. As C. S. Lewis points out, people were fearful of living in an atomic age, as they were in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year. The same was true in the Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night. We live in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents…

That said, South Africa is vulnerable because of the prevalence of HIV, TB and other illnesses with our poor population – which makes up a substantial percentage of our population. We simply cannot afford to beat around the bush with this virus. The reality is that first-world countries are preventing international travel while we attempt to slow the spread of this virus. Local and international businesses are catching a wake-up call on how they operate and are being forced to re-think supply chain management and everything else.

A man crosses an empty highway on February 3, 2020 in Wuhan, China.

The world has changed. And I think it’s towards a healthier existence, despite the nutcases who think we’re all going to die from this virus. Yes, we’ll die, but some of us from mere witlessness more than Covid-19.

A Dutch trends forecaster, Li Edelkoort (69), has a similar provocative outlook on the Corona outbreak. She reckons it’s a sobering force that will temper our consumerist appetites and jet-setting habits.

“We need to find new values—values of simple experience, of friendship. It might just turn the world around for the better.”

I love that sentiment.

“The virus will slow down everything,” Edelkoort says. “We will see an arrest in the making of consumer goods. That is terrible and wonderful because we need to stop producing at such a pace. We need to change our behavior to save the environment. It’s almost as if the virus is an amazing grace for the planet.”

My former boss and now editor of the local newspaper, Yves Vanderhaeghen, articulated some wonderful sobriety in the midst of all the chaos. Read it here. But my favourite line in it all was this:

“No doubt panicking is a constitutional right, but we’d all be better off if everyone could just do it in the bedroom and not in public.”

He shared the article on his Facebook profile and interestingly, a friend of his who lives in Milan, Italy, contributed the following information:

“Well kinda cool that Milan and Hilton are twinned…one way to overcome nostalgia while we face the end of the world as we know it. Milan is surreal, deserted, more than half the shops are closed. The streets are empty. Busses pass occasionally sometimes containing a single masked passenger.

We have no more structures…we go to bed when we please wake up when we please or in time for my son’s on line lessons.

I take the bicycle out clandestinely to be in the sun and get some fresh air. It feels like love in the time of cholera. It feels like I should have sex before I die. I know no one who has the virus or even who knows someone who has it. Yet it’s spreading like wildfire and people are really staying locked in and panicking and yet it’s not totally concrete.

Maybe we all have it. Maybe we’ll all die. Maybe we’ll just starve cos no work now pay. An yet there are water eggs in the supermarket and blossoms on the cherry trees regardless.”

I am always grateful that there are people out there who notice similar things to what some of us others do. Let’s keep calm and carry on, and accept the world has changed… hopefully for the better.

UPDATE: Monday 16 March

President Cyril Ramaphosa last night declared South Africa in a state of emergency. As I watched the live broadcast last night, I was amazed and equally grateful for him and his courageous leadership. Grateful that God put him there, grateful that there is decisive leadership and concern for people, and grateful that he said not to panic but resolute and work together.

Inamongst the craziness, one man demonstrates courage and calm, and I feel as though all is not lost.

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