Every day, we hear about the devastating impact of the novel coronavirus. The numbers of people who have died from COVID-19. Hospitals too overwhelmed to deal adequately with patients ill from the virus. The economy cratered into what might lead to a depression. A vaccine that still seems far of. It’s easy right now to get caught up in the breaking news about rescue flights, closed borders and cities in shutdown. “Flatten the curve” has become our new mantra (for New Zealand it is about squashing the curve). “Stay at home”, “wash your hands”, “physical distancing” have become our day to day reality.
But what if we looked at COVID-19 from a different perspective. What if the coronavirus was a teacher. What might we learn from it?
My single biggest lesson is how interconnected we are. This virus is not a Chinese virus; it’s our virus. It’s in Italy, Spain, Iran, France, the U.S. and Canada. It’s even made its way to Kenya (where our children live and work), and the remotest parts of the world. As of today, more than 1.4 million people have been contaminated by the virus and nearly 81,000 have died from it. The virus does not respect gender or age (the youngest person to have died from the virus is a 6-week old newborn). It does not respect nationality, religion, occupation or financial status. In the eyes of the virus, we are all one and the same.
The virus is a stark reminder for us that what happens in one part of the world has an impact on another, and how we must be united to fight this together. It reminds me of the story of Ubuntu.
The story goes that an anthropologist who was studying the culture of a remote African tribe, put a basket of sweets near a tree. He gathered young tribal children, made them stand a few hundred feet away from the basket and told them that whoever reached the basket first would get all the sweets. When he gave them the signal to start, these children held each other’s hands and ran towards the tree together, divided the sweets and enjoyed them together. The anthropologist was perplexed and asked them why they would all go together when one of them could have got all the sweets. A young girl looked up at him and said, “Ubuntu” which is loosely translated as “I am because we are.”
“Ubuntu” is a South African ethical belief about the universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu in this way:
“Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
The color of our skin, the language we speak, our accents, and our cultures count for nothing in the eyes of this fast-moving pandemic; we are all members of one great human family. Now is a great time to practice the ethics of Ubuntu and show care, compassion and love to each other and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world. Because when one of us suffers, we all suffer; when one of us succeeds, we all succeed.
If COVID-19 were a teacher, what is it teaching you?