Today, I’m sharing my thoughts about the role we all have to play in responding to COVID-19. I’m also sharing a bigger-picture perspective about the important lessons this situation has to teach us. If we can work together and integrate the lessons we have to learn from COVID-19, there is hope that humanity can grow to become kinder, more compassionate, and more sustainable than ever before.
Twelve months ago, I presented a TEDx talk called “What is the best thing you can do in this moment?” The idea of the talk was that asking this question can help you to guide your thinking and the way you act, in order to live the best life you can and to help others around you do the same. When I gave that talk, I had no idea that 12 months later, today, we would be facing a global crisis as severe as the one that we have with COVID-19. And if ever there was a time to think about doing the best thing you can, now is that time.
Sadly, many people are very confused about how to respond to this situation. Some people are still in denial and haven't realized what's going on. Other people are simply uninformed, and so for these people the best thing is to inform yourself. If you know others that don't yet grasp what's happening, please try to help them to understand as well.
The next thing you can do, which many of us would have already heard about, is to help flatten the curve, which basically just means reducing the spread of the disease. So please, take this seriously and follow the guidelines of the World Health Organization and your local health authorities to reduce the rate of transmission for this disease.
However, once you've become informed and once you've followed your local health advice, it still might leave you wondering “what else can I do?” Many people are at home by themselves, in isolation, just watching the chaos unfold. We're also seeing escalating rates of domestic violence and mental health problems as people are cooped up inside and processing the chaos that's unfolding.
Psychologically, one way to think about this is that this is a grief and loss process. Many people associate loss and grief with losing loved ones, and tragically there is going to be a lot of that in the months ahead. However, loss can involve anything, and right now we're having all kinds of losses. We're having loss to structure, loss to in-person connection, loss of jobs, loss of future security.
This is a very psychologically complex process for people, and people are going to react in all different ways. This is why we're seeing people panic buying. It's a natural response when you feel under threat to want to take some kind of action, but panic buying is not only misguided, because the food supply system is not under threat, but it's also causing a secondary problem that then requires time and energy to address. So, instead of panic buying, what can we do?
What we can do, is to work together. In fact, that is the thing that has allowed our species to face up to so many challenges in the past. I mean, look at us – we don't have thick fur, we don't have sharp claws. If we go outside in the sun, we burn. If we go outside when it's too cold, we freeze to death! The thing that allows us to survive is our ability to adapt and work together. That is what we need right now.
Now is the time for kindness.
Now is the time for patience.
Now is the time to turn inwards, and to think about what matters most.
Now is the time to think not about what we can get for ourselves, to ensure our personal well-being, but time to think about what we can contribute, to work together as a global community.
Some people are going to have special skills and abilities, such as doctors and nurses, or students who are about to graduate, and there's going to be a need for more people like that. Many countries are already calling on volunteers to step up and help with this situation. However, you don't need special training to be able to help.
Anyone can take the time to perform an act of kindness, to check up on a loved one, a family member, or a friend – especially someone who you think is likely to be disconnected from others or someone who is most vulnerable. Please take the time to act with patience and kindness right now. That's what we need.
Finally, I want to give you a bigger picture perspective on what's happening.
I don't want to diminish the severity of the situation. In the months and even years ahead, we're going to have incredible challenges to face. However, I'm hopeful that this could also be a wake-up call for humanity.
Since the Industrial Revolution, our species has enjoyed the most prosperous period we've ever known. People have better health care, better food access. Although there is still tremendous inequality in the world, as a species we're living longer than ever before. However, all these wonderful things have come at great cost, and now that cost is catching up to us.
In order to have this golden period of prosperity, we've cut down the forests. We've cut deep into the earth in order to burn the gas and the oil and the coal that we found below. We’ve filled the air with toxic fumes, and we’ve filled the oceans with sewage and plastic.
The way we've been living is not sustainable and now nature is fighting back. As you see in nature, any organism that becomes too unsustainable in the way it lives and causes too much damage on its environment starts to suffer the consequences. Now is the time to think about the way we live our lives, and how we can live in a way that's kinder, more co-operative as a global species, and more sustainable.
COVID-19 has harsh but important lessons to teach us. If we are able to respond to this in the best way that we can – if we're able to integrate the lessons that this situation has to teach us – there is hope that humanity can come through this and come into a new period that is brighter, kinder, and more compassionate than anything we've seen before.
So, as you navigate the challenges to come, please hold this in mind. Please think about what you can do to contribute, even if that is simply to look after yourself and your loved ones.
Thank you so much for watching this, and I'm wishing you kindness and health in the weeks and months to come. Thank you.
For the latest Situation Reports from the World Health Organisation, visit: