by Kurian Thomas
Every day, when we turn to the news to catch up on the latest information on COVID-19, we are made aware of the many ways people are responding to the immediate needs of others during this pandemic. Medical professionals are on the front lines, working longer shifts and risking their personal well-being to take care of those who are infected; people are sewing masks to be donated to hospitals to make up for the shortage our doctors and nurses are facing; many people are staying home to help slow the spread of the virus. All these responses are necessary and important, critical even, to successfully combatting this disease. They also point to the solidarity and unity many people are feeling as they realize that we are dependent upon each other, for the safety of all.
However, these responses are for the short-term; as all crises do, this will pass. As the transmission rate slows, the curve flattens, and COVID-19 starts to fade, these short-term responses may no longer be necessary. But the lessons we are learning right now, and the feelings of unity and interdependence – will those be short-term responses as well? Should they be?
As we move through this challenging time, it’s important to fix our gaze not only on the immediate responses to COVID-19, but the long term responses that will dictate how we as a society, and as a global community, move forward. I think back to the world right after 9/11 – people came together initially to mourn the loss of life, to celebrate the resilience of the American spirit and to support each other in trying to comprehend what had happened. Yet within a short time, some of this unity began to fade, and there was an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment; people retreated into their political camps; and the nation went into a long, highly contested war. Americans moved forward into a time of polarization, fear and division that we are still living in today.
So how do we move forward from this pandemic and carry forward the values that we are clinging to right now, in this moment? How do we continue to foster honesty, purity, unselfishness and love? How can we live into our values to bridge some of the divides in our society right now? The answers to these questions will be important in the coming months and years, particularly as the US heads into a divisive presidential election. Let us consider:
How we cultivate the values of love, joy, peace, unity and care for others in our own lives. Deepak Chopra spoke recently of the spiritual effect of the pandemic, and said, 'Universal truths don't matter until they are true for you personally. The secret imparted by the world’s wisdom traditions is that your sense of self, the simple experience of "I am" is the gateway to inner peace and joy.' By nurturing our inner selves through spiritual practice, we can cultivate the values that are crucial to bridging the divides in our society.
How we are helping others and how we will continue to help others in the coming months. During times of crisis, it is important to focus on the needs of others and to look for ways to help those who are suffering. And while this is important in a crisis, we need to remember to continue to look for ways to help and offer support in the months ahead. Care and support should transcend societal divides – when someone is in need, it does not matter their political party, religion or how much you have in common with them.
Tending to the values of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love – this is the long-term work we should all be doing so that we can see healing take place in our society and see some of the divides start to narrow.
Kurian is the Vice President of Programs at the Fetzer Institute, our partner for the Trustbuilding Program. In this role, Kurian works closely with the Institute’s team to advance Fetzer Institute's mission of "helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world". This includes overseeing a portfolio of more than 60 projects across the globe on a range of topics related to democracy, education, faith and spirituality, and organizational culture.
With more than 15 years' experience in non-profit sector, he enjoys connecting with people, listening to their stories, and co-creating projects that help deepen the inner capacity to address some of the most complex problems of our times. He and his wife, Sangeetha, live in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with their four children.