Earlier this year the World Economic Forum warned that the global economy was at risk. In an economic mindset where growth is the one and only goal, the WEF warned that the world faces many challenges. The report said, “climate change is striking harder and more rapidly than expected, and a fragmented cyber space threatens the full potential of next generation technologies — all while citizens worldwide protest political and economic conditions, and voice concerns about systems that exacerbate inequality. The challenges before us demand immediate collective action, but fractures within the global community appear to only be widening.”
Those fractures, the separation between the haves and the have not’s, those with access to healthcare or not, those with legal residency or not, are worsened when people have no empathy, no tolerance for others. The ‘otherisation’ of those outside one’s own social group is the first step, and the placing of blame another. In the US, the president has been calling COVID 19 the Chinese virus, while Chinese media have reported rumours that the virus was brought to China by the US military.
What matters here is not who is to blame. Global pandemics appear in cycles and warning of our unpreparedness was released in a study as recently as September 2019. Given the encroachment of humanity into nature, it’s not surprising that a new disease has taken hold. What does matter is how we respond to it. Does the US rethink a model which leaves 26 million without access to healthcare? Do the world’s top 1% think about the redistribution of some of their wealth? Will pharma giants like Gilead be stopped from profiteering during this global blight? There are many options and the way in which our societies will evolve in response to the coronavirus event are impossible to picture now. Nonetheless the choices we make will define the future we live in, the one we pass down to our children.
With around 20% of the global population under quarantine and up to 40% under restrictions, and potentially millions of people around the world now unemployed, we need to work together more than ever. This has been recognised to an extent by governments, who are putting economic stimulus in place to ensure that work continues for as many as possible. There has been a recognition that our societies are interconnected and interdependent, as are our economies. What the coronovirus crisis has highlighted is that if people can’t pay their rent, buy food, service debt, pay bills, the economy will collapse. Money runs throughout the economy like water through an ecosystem – if one part of that system fails, then a cascade effect can occur. What we need to do is ensure that every member of society is taken care of.
The first step towards taking care of each other is ensuring that we value each other. That means empathy and that means tolerance – giving to others the rights we demand for ourselves. We stand at a pivotal point in our development as a global society and it’s important that we move forward in the right way. A focus on what we have in common, from responding to emergencies, doing no harm and building a peaceful future together, can transform the way our societies work. Mutual understanding and dialogue under-pin a better world.
The original version of this article appeared in the April 2020 issue of Education Today.