By Mark Foster
Published March 24, 2020
This is the first time in my life, I have ever seen the world unite around a singular cause. I’ve heard about it happening in the past. I’ve heard stories about what it felt like after World War 2 ended; when people were broken, in mourning, but optimistic about rebuilding a better world. There was a feeling of unity after the twin towers fell and shook the nation. There was a sense of unity after the terrorist attack on the Bataclan in Paris; but the essence of the feeling was different. This feels different. Maybe it feels different because the past tragedies were thrust upon us in an act of human violence; being punched in the stomach by our fellow man. Maybe it’s because they were isolated incidents that the survivors could look at from a distance and mourn in the safety of their own home. I haven’t put my finger on why this time it’s different. It just is.
The fear is different. The uncertainty is different. The unity is also different. As I woke up this morning to texts from friends and family with updates, warnings, and the desire to connect with other people, I found myself thinking about the beauty of this pause. The entire world has pressed pause. It’s as if mother earth said, “O.K. you degenerates give me the wheel. I’m gonna steer us back in the right direction.”
Sometimes, a pause is the only thing that can bring clarity to the manic momentum of the rat race we’ve allowed to hijack our humanity. Sometimes a pause is what we need to remind us that we are not gods. We forget that we’re actually sensitive, vulnerable, weak creatures that need to breathe oxygen multiple times a minute, drink water, eat food, and maintain an internal temperature of 98.6 degrees. It’s easy to forget about our vulnerabilities when we have been spoiled with the comforts of societal excess.
Man is born with an instinct to go further than the previous generation; to achieve more than our mothers and fathers. We are born with an innate fear that when we take our last breath, we will be forgotten. Our fear of death drives us to leave behind some kind of legacy to be remembered forever. We want to feel like we made a difference. We want to build. To create. Whether it’s a legacy by passing our DNA to children, breaking “impossible” world records, or building skyscrapers that tower above the clouds, we have a deep desire to feel like we matter. In that desire, we tend to make a lot of mistakes chasing the trophy while turning a blind eye to the trail of dead we leave in our wake.
In today’s world, the end is much more important than the means. If you become the greatest at what you do, it doesn’t matter how you got there. It just matters that you’re at the top of the hill. We want to be famous. We want to be rich. We want to be special. We want to have likes on Instagram, friends on Facebook, and retweets on Twitter.
In an age where everything is more connected than ever before, this attitude has seemed to affect, and infect cultures that historically have placed the health of society over the success of the individual. This western philosophy of being the god of our own universe is contagious. “Your truth is your truth. My truth is mine.” It’s got a seductive ring to it.
The age of misinformation and creating our own narrative has dangerously replaced reality. In our quest for power, we’ve learned if we create our own reality, nobody can tell us we’re wrong; or we failed, or we’re not on the right path. The spoils don’t go to the victor. They go to the person who successfully shapes the perception of who won the battle.
Our greedy endeavors got us here, no doubt. This tiny virus has effectively put its finger on the very core of our selfishness. We’ve become gluttons in industry; destroying the planet with pollution, waste, and excess out of our hedonistic desires to accumulate wealth. We’ve become lords over the land we inherited, denying people the right to partake in the very dream we are benefitting from. Unchecked capitalism encourages us to enjoy the view from the best possible vantage point, even if that means building our castle on the bodies of others.
The evidence is now overwhelming that we are facing the most dangerous enemy the world has seen since the atomic bomb was introduced to the world in 1945. If this is not contained, there will be millions of deaths. This isn’t just a physical virus. It’s an economic virus. And when the economy suffers, people die. In the coming months, our survival is dependent on our willingness to put the needs of others ahead of our personal comforts. It is the ultimate test of our willingness to sacrifice our personal luxuries for a strangers necessities. Are we willing to trust each other enough to buy only what is necessary if that means our anonymous neighbors will have a fighting chance of survival?
Sometimes the only way to shake us out of our arrogance, is to remind us that we are only human. The world existed before we were born, and we don’t know what happens after we die. This is the most terrifying thought that exists in our mind. It goes against our very nature of living our lives like we are gods. We spend most of our life consciously or unconsciously suppressing this question. We try our best to “be in the moment.” But the truth is, when we’re confronted by a tangible threat to our survival, these internal tenets of our faith-in-self disappear and we return to the most haunting question we are born with: why are we here, what are we supposed to do while we’re here, and why does any of it matter.
My hope is that as we are in this pause of reflection, we will dig within ourselves and find our soul again. I hope we will reach out to people in need and give them the other half of our sandwich. I hope that our governments work together, comparing their research and sharing their best scientists work to collectively find a vaccine. I hope our employers and heads of companies will reach into their profit margins and share a piece of the pie with the workers that helped build the empires they lead. I hope that landlords will be patient with their tenants paying rent on the first of the month, knowing that they may have been laid off of their job. I hope banks will give a grace period to debtors paying back their loans. I hope our farmers will continue to supply us with the food we need at a reasonable price. I hope that healthy people will respect the fact that they may carry a virus that could take the life of someone less fortunate. I hope that in these times of fear, we will have faith. Faith in nature. Faith in our fellow humans. Faith in our scientists. Faith in our doctors and nurses. Faith in our government to govern with empathy. Faith in a higher power to help us find the solution and save us from ourselves.
Fear, pride, greed, and selfishness will cause unnecessary deaths. I encourage our leaders to lead with humility. We will come out of this on the other side stronger and more connected. When this storm passes, we can’t forget what it feels like right now. We are fragile. We are not gods. We came into this world with nothing, and if we live our lives only for ourselves, we will leave the world with nothing.