let's talk honestly
Photo by Artem Beliaikin

A Heart-to-Heart With Gloves Off

Of pandemics, pain, and facing ourselves.

Can we talk honestly? Just one imperfect human being to another. These days it seems like we are being forced to take an honest look at ourselves anyway, as our behavior caused quite an upheaval around the world when Coronavirus blew metaphorical smoke over the invisible laser beams of our entanglements, revealing so much more than we were prepared for. How tightly interconnected our world has become! How quickly something — an influence — can spread across the entire globe.

Still, we surely surprised ourselves. We made the whole world stand still as we settled down in isolation behind closed doors to wait out the pandemic. Such were the lengths to which we were willing to go when something was important enough, when it threatened enough harm. What are we trying to protect ourselves from? Death? Suffering? That is serious enough.

Rewind to just a month ago. Life before the pandemic, when we innocently busied ourselves about our day in a world devoid of unnecessary loss of life, a world without suffering, a world where nothing harmful spread through the human networks… nothing serious enough that it warranted coordinated global actions, anyway.

This was our day before COVID-19

The sun rose and the world woke up. We left our homes and plunged into an endless exchange of interactions — from the traffic jam on the way to work, to the tacit competition with our coworkers, to our relationships (or lack thereof) with our parents, our spouses, our kids, their teachers, our friends and enemies, random strangers, fictional strangers on TV screens that sometimes feel closer than family, and many more — the never-ending exchange of influences over each others’ destinies, moods, thoughts, health, habits, perceptions of self worth, and everything in between. Social distancing orders were unheard of back then.

This was one day on our planet back when nothing was important enough to stop the world in its tracks. As the sun set on this day,

  • 1,100 people never came home, having fallen victim to homicide. (Source1Source2)
  • 2,200 people took their own life and 2,200 families will never be the same. That is one person committing suicide every 40 seconds. (Source) (To put it in perspective: The number of deaths from suicides is higher than the number of deaths from all forms of violence, that includes crime, terrorism, conflict, and executions across the world.) (Source)
  • 32,329 people died of a drug-related death (Source)
  • Over 10% of the world spent the day coping with a mental disorder; over 500 million faced the darkness of depression or anxiety (Source)
  • 4,400 people lost their lives to preventable and treatable diarrheal diseases (Source)
  • 2.2 million people went to bed hungry, including 55,000 who are at risk of starvation (Source)
  • 8,500 children died from malnutrition (Source)
  • Meanwhile, 3.56 million tonnes of food rotted as waste on this day. That is 1.6 tonnes per malnourished person. (Source)

What is happening to us? What makes us so indifferent to the suffering of another? What drives us to hurt each other so much that we are willing to kill, that we fall into depression and want to end our own life, that we try to escape the pain through drugs, alcohol, and the like? And why did nobody seem to notice this pandemic of mutually-inflicted misery that is objectively worse than anything else that plagues us today?

An Invisible Virus As Old as Time

Just like Coronavirus, each of the tragedies listed above is an illness the cause of which spreads through connections between us. We can track the spread of a physical virus with ease, but no tool in existence can yet measure (and sound an alarm about) the other ‘virus’ that we pass to each other wittingly and unwittingly through our social networks: A carelessly dropped word that falls into someone’s heart like a heavy stone that will weigh them down for life, a violent argument, an intentional betrayal, a bullied child, a day spent in painful awareness of another’s indifference; broken families, drug addictions, immeasurable stress, depression, suicides — and again indifference, so much indifference.

I am willing to bet that each and every one of us felt this in one form or another, and that we all harbor wounds caused by fellow human beings. Even more so, I will assert with confidence that all of humanity’s pain is directly or indirectly brought on by our own selves. We all deliver and receive these blows every day until we are forced, as an instinct of survival, to develop habits that allow us to detach ourselves from the suffering, to fill the love-shaped void with emotional numbing agents like TV, social media, drugs, alcohol and the like, while the shrapnel of our actions wounds the hearts of our kids and loved ones as a consequence, adding more fuel to the vicious cycle.

This is our nature if we look at it honestly. I think the time has come for us all to have an honest talk.

The Making of a Superhero

As kids, we dream of being Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman — we dream of being the hero that saves the world. As grown-ups, we dream of a world where we can be safe, loved, and calm. The superhero of our adult world is different from our childhood fantasies — and just as elusive. That superhero is someone who can go above their desires for accolades, wealth, and power over others, and instead can apply him- or herself to helping someone else succeed. This hero is unflaunted, unnoticed even.

We would love to be a superhero, but our wounds are too deep and the pressure to survive is too real — who can be a hero in circumstances like these? How can I worry about someone else when I have children to feed, bills to pay, anxieties to quell, and a respectable social status to secure?

None of this is our fault. There are no fingers to point, nobody to single out as the bad guy. We have tried everything, and we can see that we are working with something stronger than ourselves. This is our nature, and we are not capable of taming it by force, economic incentives, fear, or government policies. If we could, we would have done this by now. We certainly had enough time and we certainly tried.

Educating the Human Within Us

There is, however, a way for us to heal ourselves from this ‘virus’ that was growing and gaining strength for centuries. There is a way to overcome whatever it is that is stopping us from the heroic dream of saving the world. There is just one and only way: We have to work with our nature and not against it: We need to educate the Human Being in each of us instead of trying to tame the human animal that co-evolved along with it.

Let us launch an emergency global response like we have done in times of war, like we are doing now during the Coronavirus epidemic. Let us pause this race to nowhere and give ourselves a new upbringing, a mandatory global education not only of the mind, but of the heart. Especially of the heart.

We evolved as animals for millions of years, and only a tiny fraction of evolutionary time we spent as conscious beings. Our behavior still hinges on animal instincts to survive, compete, and reproduce, but our desires evolved beyond those of any other animal, and they keep growing and changing every day in response to inner drives and influences from our social environments. Nature can develop the animal within us, but the next degree of our human evolution requires our conscious involvement — this is something that we have to build by ourselves.

Therefore, as a matter of top priority we need to seek out specialists in human nature and open schools that will focus on teaching children and adults about our inner makeup, the forces acting on us, and how and why we are programmed to respond. These schools will also give people the tools to work with the difficult attributes of our nature so we could use them correctly to benefit ourselves and our society.

We all need to form groups where people will learn and practice respectful communication as a skill; where everyone will treat each other as equals, where everyone will be heard equally, and decisions will be made in synthesis of everyone’s differences. We need to practice this until it becomes our new nature and the norm of our daily lives. A person who can achieve this — this will be the superhero of the new world.

We need to redirect the channels that set our trends and shape our values (movies, shows, celebrity role-models) toward demonstrating for us the world we all want to live in, to set examples of positive human relationships and make that the new trend that we would all want to emulate.

In the game of life, we all fear to be the first to bend in favor of someone else’s happiness lest we be crushed and left in the dust. The only way our dream of a kind, fulfilling, safe, and abundant world can be possible is if we all agree to build it at the same time. Global mandatory education about becoming a Human Being is the only solution that will heal the root of every single problem we face today. We will be forced to reach this one way or another, because everything in nature eventually finds a state of balance — and whether we like it or not, we are also a part of nature. How quickly and at what cost will we get there — that is entirely up to us. At least now we know that we are capable of drastic global measures, as long as something is important enough.

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