What an interesting situation we are in. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well during these trying times.
While we are separated by distance, we are united in circumstance. We share the same concerns. We share the same hopes. It is not often the thoughts of everyone on Earth dwell in this degree of unity.
I recall a book I read some time ago. The author wrote of interviews with survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and of his surprise in hearing survivors describe the event as one of the most magnificent times of their lives. The earthquake killed an estimated 3,000 people, and ignited fires that burned roughly 500 city blocks and left 400,000 residents homeless. Yet, despite the devastation, an air of unity arose. A community of people united in circumstance came together, bonded with one another, and in caring for the well-being of each other, triumphed over despair. For survivors, the memory of this camaraderie was cherished for a lifetime.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unusual incident in that we cannot physically unite. Many of the traditional ways in which people find solace, such as group exercise, therapy, or congregated prayer, are beyond the boundary of safety. So, it is a time in which introspection and creativity must flourish. We must find ways to soothe our emotional and physical condition and to keep the mind actively engaged. As the old saying goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”
Luckily, technological solutions for mediated conversation abound. We can unite with family, and friends, and communities virtually. And the Internet provides a wealth of opportunities for learning and entertaining. But the virtual world has its limitations. Movies, TV series, and online entertainment eventually become quite numbing.
I often think about the transformation of entertainment over time and how it ties into our concept of “progress.” Today’s entertainment is characterized by immediate and effortless, short-term gratification. I am not sure this is “progress.” Today’s entertainment offers little to personal or social development. We watch movies and TV series, we watch hours of YouTube videos, we play video games, but all too often, we gain nothing from them that lasts in the long-term. In fact, often we are actually just watching others who are doing interesting things with their lives, while we are just sitting, numbly watching. There was a time when entertainment fostered personal and social development. I think of the days of Jane Austen, when entertainment was walking in the woods (physical development), reading a book and conversing about its content (intellectual development), and playing music together (social development). Today, many of us are simply watching the people who are doing these things. We are watching the athletes who wander in the woods. We are watching the intellets presenting their TED talks. We are watching the musicians playing their instruments. We are watching, watching, watching, while they are doing, doing, doing. Yet, all of us possess the capacity to be a doer of any skill. We can all wander in the woods. We can all become an expert on any topic. We can all learn to play and sing and dance.
Well, here we are now, confined to our houses. What a wonderful time to reenvision the entertainment in our lives. What a perfect time to be doing and growing. Better still, we can share this experience with those around us, either physically or virtually, and improve the condition of our relationships and social bonds. We can foster camaraderie by encouraging each other to learn and grow and supporting one another as we do so.
While this is a trying time for most, I believe it can be a time of tremendous growth. As a muscle does not develop without strain, the mind does not develop without toil. Struggle is what makes us strong. And strong we will certainly become as we persevere through these trying times.
As for myself, I’m taking this time to learn more about the condition of our world. I recently read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent climate change synthesis report. And I am currently reading the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Future of Food And Agriculture report and a book on the threat of climate change to national security. For anyone who wants to know what we’re in for in the coming decades (including the increasing threat of infectious diseases), I highly recommend these readings.
Here are the links to these materials:
The IPCC’s Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report
The United Nations FAO Future of Food and Agriculture, Alternative Pathways to 2050 report
Daniel Moran’s Climate Change and national Security, A Country-Level Analysis
It has been said that what humans seek most, is the sense of purpose. And I have read that in times of disaster, people who seek and embrace roles of purpose fare better than those who do not. In studies of people who have been stranded at sea or lost in the woods, a common characteristic in survivors is the tendency to assume a role of value to the individual’s or group’s survival. For example, taking on the role of gathering food or checking a lifeboat for leaks every morning. These roles keep the mind focused on the tasks of survival, reduce the mind’s tendency to panic, and create a sense of purpose. This seems commonsensical, right?
With this in mind, I have taken some time to create a garden with my family. It’s amazing how soothing gardening is. And it has been truly exciting watching these little plants grow! In filling up the day with various roles, I keep my mind engaged and provide value to the family, which in turn, creates a sense of purpose.
Watching the growth of plants within our garden, and the beauty of the natural world awakening from a winter’s rest, calls to my mind the words of Richard Dawkins, “Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous-indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”
So, it is that nature has brought the material kingdom to a standstill, while at the same time it provides us with the boundless beauty of Spring. Here in Oregon, the trees are budding and blooming. The flowers are giving their gift to the world; pollen for the birds and bees, and beauty for the passerbys.
Should you find yourself bored, don’t forget there’s a wonderful natural world out there just waiting to be enjoyed.
In sharing the activities of my days, I hope to have encouraged you to try something new, to discover new purpose, and to learn and grow, if you are not already do so.
To everyone out there, I wish you the best possible outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope you and your family and friends are safe. For those of you who have lost loved ones, I am so sorry for your loss. My heart and thoughts go out to you in this time of sorrow.
I hope in the future, those politicians in the highest levels of leadership will respond more appropriately to such events to prevent such catastrophic consequences. Hopefully, lessons will be learned from this pandemic, and measures will be put in place to mitigate the severity of similar events in the decades to come.