Pandemic as Opportunity
A global pandemic is an opportunity for global change—for rapid and effective change to a better world.
Even if some people are depressed and do not see the light at the end of the tunnel, the pandemic we are experiencing is temporary; it will pass into history as all the previous pandemics did. But the change it could bring may be lasting. It can be a change for the better, or a change for the worst. Making it a change for the better is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
We are in the midst of a “bifurcation”—the process scientists call a sudden forking in the evolutionary trajectory of complex dynamic systems. We are living the global systems-shift we have discussed and anticipated for years. We have learned a few things about such a shift. It is one-way, it cannot be reversed. But it is not predetermined—it allows choice. In a bifurcation, we can choose the way we go. This means that for the first time in history, we can consciously and purposefully choose our destiny. This could be a bright destiny; the dawn of a new era of sanity and flourishing. Whether it will be that is up to us, and only to us.
Bifurcation creates crisis, and crisis, we know, is both danger and opportunity. Either way, it is a prelude to change. The challenge is to choose the change that leads to a sane and flourishing world. This is a real but non-recurring opportunity. Failing to seize it means not just returning to where we have been—which is not possible in any case—but confronting the prospect of our collective demise. Because if we fail to change during the pandemic-triggered bifurcation, we leave ourselves open to the next crisis, and that is likely to be equally global, but not necessarily as temporary. The unsustainable processes we have created could reach fateful tipping points. We either evolve on this planet, or we leave the stage of history. This is a lesson we have learned on the level of theory. Now we are facing it in practice.
Strangely and seemingly paradoxically, the pandemic is a blessing in disguise. It made us realize that we are a single global family: an interdependent and either co-evolving or co-devolving living system. If we do not make use of the presently granted opportunity to change, we expose ourselves not to one, but to a plethora of crises. Which crisis will come our way next? Millions dying of starvation and penury—and through epidemics and violence taking further millions with them? Or hordes of displaced refugees tearing apart the fabric of ever more societies? Or droughts turning fertile and verdant land into arid plains? Sea-level rise flooding a third of the globe’s human habitations? Violent storms destroying the homes of rich and poor? Or local conflicts escalating into regional wars and turning into a global nuclear confrontation?
Returning to business as usual, to the norms and practices and the values and assumptions of the recent past is not possible, but this is just as well—it would be suicidal. Another way is open to us, and we can enter it: the old world is now destabilized. The social, economic, political, and cultural systems that have been framing our life are shaken to the roots. Disruptive change is a prelude to fundamental change, whether it is constructive or destructive.
There is a lesson here we need to learn. We shall not enter the path to constructive change by fearing the contrary. John Kennedy said it decades ago: we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Expressed constructively, we have good reason to hope when we hope firmly, with trust and courage. And when we believe in our power to achieve what we hope for.
What is it then, that we need to do? It is clear that we need to think constructively—dare to hope and dare to follow up our hope. But we also need to act differently; act as if we were part of the web of life on the planet. Because we are that, even if most of us neither realizes nor acts like it. We are harming the planet and harming ourselves. We disregard the oneness of life. We have to think differently. It is not “our people, our nation first”—not even all of humanity first. It is the sphere of life first, as it exists and evolves on Earth. When that sphere is safe and sound, we are safe and sound. Then we flourish, instead of fighting crisis after crisis.
Our body is healthy when it is whole, and the body of humanity is healthy when it is whole—when it embraces and values all the things with which we share this planet. We know this, and we have always known it. But in the modern world we have suppressed this knowledge in a mindless scramble for immediate satisfaction through money and power.
We have used whatever we could to achieve our ends. We have developed enormous means in the form of energy and information technologies. We have used these technologies irresponsibly, without regard for the consequences. As a result, they respond to our short-term wants, but are indifferent to our long-term needs.
Technologies are now shaping the world. This is a dangerous condition: it could lead to a wide variety of “corollary damages.” Even to the creation of quasi-living organisms such as malignant viruses.
We must ensure that our technologies are safe, and that they serve our needs. This means achieving a healthy balance that allows life on Earth to flourish in harmony. This is a monumental task, but in tackling it we need not rely only on the narrow rationality of our authorities and institutions. Our real guidance does not come from above and beyond—it comes from within and below. It is the guidance deriving from our sense of who we are, and how we relate to each other and to nature. The authority we can and should follow is deep and wise. It is our own deeper self. Being a part of the web of life, whatever force or impetus forms and informs that web is “in” us—it is in our conscious and our subconscious mind. It is understandable that deep down we should know that life on Earth is not a jungle where the strongest survive, but a system of mutual harmonization, guided by empathy and the sense of belonging and unconditional love. Today this is not just what religious prophets and spiritual masters are telling us; this is what down-to-earth quantum physicists, quant biologists, and transpersonal psychologists are saying.
The guidance of our inner self is reliable—far more reliable than the single-minded pursuit of riches and power. We are social beings, and we can express it in our behavior. Expressing it is good for the world, and good for us. Living in harmony with others and with nature is healthier, happier, and more rewarding than chasing after self-centered short-term satisfactions.
There is a new bottom line regarding our life and destiny. It is that we can now take the conduct of our life and the orientation of our destiny into our own hands. We can be the change we wish to see in the world. In a global bifurcation, we are masters of our destiny. This we must realize, and put into practice. Our health, our wellbeing, our very survival depends on it.
We can thank the pandemic for opening the way to a global transformation. Now we can create a better world, a world that lives up to the power and the potential of the human spirit. When the pandemic subsides and passes into history, creating a better world will be our epochal task. There has never been a more exciting and important task in history.