The Coronavirus Might Just Save Us

  • National Newswatch

It's been hard.  For some it's been the inability to get together in our favourite pastimes or with our friends and families, but for others it has been the loss of income, the present reality of food insecurity, or the fact that there might be no job to go back to.  We want our lives back and pretty soon an increasing amount of people will want to escape out into public  pursuits again – ironically putting it at greater risk.But let's put this emergency in another light, look at it another way.Where would we be without government at the moment, for instance?  Seriously, if wasn't for the various stimulus efforts, nations would be on their knees, not just confined to their dwellings.  The various investments from federal, provincial and local governments have kept us from devastation and public turmoil.  Yet it was only two months ago that so many commentators and others were informing us every day that government was the problem and that less of it was the solution.  This pandemic would look totally different right now if they had won out..And we are discovering that our communities really matter, that our neighbours are more than just people who live around us, and that bravery is sometimes the ability to do nothing in order to put fewer people in danger.  In fact, it has proved essential.  Did we know that before?  I doubt it, but we do now and in its own way it has proved liberating.  We are actually respecting one another and citizenship is now about respecting social distancing.  It's something all of us can do and we are proving adept and capable of handling it.  It's impressive.We are in the process of discovering just how fragile our health is and how pivotal our health systems are to our survival.  This is no longer a theory postulated by some, but a renewed creed for any society that wishes to endure into the future.  We are now learning that we weren't investing enough into our health systems previously and it's likely we will wish to correct that once Covid-19 has passed.  There is nothing wrong with learning that lesson.  It's a plus.And we are getting new lessons in leadership.  Many of those pining for better leadership in the past are now strangely silent, while others have stepped forward in remarkably unexpected ways.  They are reaching out to the vulnerable, respecting the need for distance, listening to health authorities and political leaders, rediscovering solitude in ways that are energizing.  And they are committing themselves to public displays of respect for frontline and essential workers.And those institutions many spent their online space denouncing have shown up with capacity just as we needed them – not just governments, but non-profits, charities, foundations, research institutes, businesses large and small, media outlets, service clubs and faith groups, education centres and civil servants.  While the critics have grown silent in their ineffectiveness, these groups have come forward in their duty and their dedication to the job.There is only problem in all this: we might just toss it all away, like some empty container, once the crisis has passed.  To be guilty of such an oversight would be a tragedy of major proportions to democracy, for communities, for humanity, for our children. There are times when civilization gets to make a choice as to what path to take in order to progress.  This is one of those occasions.We had permitted our politics to get separated from hegemony, economies to grow distance from average people, and companies to be about owning shares rather than investing in communities.  But it was worse.  We had also defamed one another online, failed to support local businesses, and practiced the kind of NIMBYism that Balkanizes communities.We are about to have the chance to change all that, to redirect our energies and our humanity, to use economies for people rather than the other way around, to make communities real communities, and to finally treat one another as though our survival depends on how we behave together as opposed to just living our own independent lives.Key to it all will be convincing our elected and financial leaders that we wish to invest in the  lessons stated above, as opposed just getting back to those old ways of doing things that so enfeebled us and made us vulnerable.  The world as we knew it pre-Covid is just what got us into this predicament in the first place.  We wish something better, more common, more equitable, more secure.Perhaps we'll get there.  Recent Frank Graves polling provides a hopeful sign.  When asked by Graves whether they believe Canadian society will return to the status quo following the pandemic, 21.8% said yes but a full 77.2% maintained that society will be transformed instead.  When asked what that transformation would look like, almost 73% felt that society would become more focussed, stressing better health and well-being, while 27% thought Canada would become more authoritarian, stressing nationalism and security.Will this trending hold?  Perhaps not.  But should the citizens of Canada choose to take this moment to pursue equitability, we must just turn those Covid lessons into reality.  Ironically, the pandemic may have saved us.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 32 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.