I was recently asked by a journalist what I thought the key lessons that we should learn from the pandemic were. I really appreciated taking a step back to ponder over this question. I realised that in many ways the pandemic offers similar lessons to different societies. First and foremost, at a global level the pandemic is giving us the opportunity to learn how profoundly interconnected we all are with everyone else in the world. As long as large groups of people remain unvaccinated in some parts of the world, new virus variants will proliferate and weaken our collective ability to shut down the potency of the coronavirus. To overcome the pandemic, we need to extend our benevolence beyond ourselves, our family, our community and even our country to the whole world, including, for example, Africa where only 1% of the population has currently been vaccinated.
Another lesson that our societies should learn is that we are not “all in this together, equally impacted by the pandemic”, which was a narrative pushed by many politicians globally during the onset of the pandemic. On the contrary, the less affluent, less white and older people are, the more adversely they are affected by the pandemic. The pandemic has also shone a light on inequalities for women more clearly than ever, as well as for people living with disabilities. I hope that governments and economists have put to bed the debate about whether welfare states are a good thing. I hope that they realise how essential welfare support is in protecting underprivileged communities, who suffer disproportionately and for longer in times of crisis.
On a personal level, the biggest lesson I have learned is to look for what I have in common with people whose views are radically different from my own. I went through a painful conflict with my sister in Bulgaria who rejects vaccines while I am a doubly-vaccinated believer in COVID-19 vaccine science. Faced with the prospect of breaking my relationship with her, I learned to hold on tightly to love as a safe and certain reality anchor. I preserved my relationship with my sister by realising that underneath our political, health-related and ideological differences lie similar fundamental needs: to belong, to connect, to feel safe, to have a purpose, to prosper, to love.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I think that this global pandemic is the grand rehearsal for how effectively we act in the face of the impending, much bigger and more life-threatening climate crisis. Our ability to act as a global community, to forgo our individual countries’ immediate interests, and our personal freedom to consume what we want whenever we want it, will determine how long humanity can survive. I hope and pray that we pass this test of unity and learn valuable lessons from the pandemic that prepare us for the gigantic global challenge of the next decade.