As the COVID-19 crisis escalates, how can we each stay resilient and find our role?
by Mark Bertin, MD
I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats may sink.
But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression – face, voice – communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says.
One such person can save the lives of many.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
We live on a planet that is like a solitary raft, in space, with definably limited resources. There are an awful lot of us. There are complex systems in play and none of us exist in isolation. If we retreat into ourselves, what happens next? We’ll still be here, on our raft, in space, with definably limited resources, an awful lot of us, together.
We’re all intertwined whether we like it or not. You buy up all the toilet paper. Your family has comfort. Your neighbors do not. Then what? The decisions made in my house affect my street, and vice versa. The decisions made in the United States affect everywhere else in the world, and vice versa.
As we would hope, in this crisis most people are already choosing to do the right thing in our communities, acting with generosity and compassion. A huge number of individuals are immersed at the medical and logistical front lines. With no short-term solution in sight, it may already be time for each of us to consider what will happen if the situation persists and grows more intense.
There is an old aphorism that goes like this: Before speaking, consider: Is it kind? Is it true? And, is it necessary? The same perspective can apply to our actions; are we staying true to what we believe right? Check in with yourself right now, sitting here, reading this. Maybe there is something more to do, or maybe something less. Maybe this is a moment to ease up on yourself and accept that you’re doing all you can.
Can we hold onto our best selves if the fear, uncertainty, and isolation expand before they end? We don’t want to be known as the generation that when the stuff hit the fan hoarded toilet paper. How does our toilet paper (or food stockpile or decision to play pickup basketball) affect the tone and safety of our community? Maybe even the world? Each of us influence our shared raft.
Set your intentions up front. From what I gather, news will worsen before it gets better. With increased testing the terrifying numbers may grow even quicker than the coronavirus disease spreads. A wave of critically ill will suffer and also further swamp the health system. There may or may not be true shortages, and there definitely will be a lot of people out of work.
Now is the time to consider your role on our communal raft. Some of us lived through LA during the riots there and in NYC post-9/11. One felt like chaos and one full of compassion, a city united. Which comes next?
Right now, in this moment. Here you are. What is true? What is kind? What is necessary?