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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology

The pandemic as a mirror

Tue, 05 May 2020 11:14:00 +0000 Published in The Provinces

One of the most famous aphorisms of Greek antiquity is "Know thyself". It means that in order to orient one's life, self-knowledge is required. The aphorism was inscribed on the pronaos of the temple of Apollo and was the greeting that the god addressed to the visitors of his temple, wishing them wisdom. Plato puts this phrase in the mouth of Socrates in his dialogue with Alcibiades, a young man who aspired to politics. He advises him that before becoming a ruler he must learn to govern himself, which requires self-knowledge.

This goal is reached through regular introspection and reflection that allows us to discover our capabilities and virtues as well as our limitations and defects. All this with the purpose of a continuous improvement staff.

In order to know oneself it is core topic to look at oneself regularly in a clean mirror. I am not referring to the experience of the young Narcissus, nor to that of the typical adolescent, interested only in knowing himself on the outside to feed his vanity. Narcissism hides the inner self. The mirror can be the exemplary behavior of a good friend or a social and health crisis that shakes us, disconcerts us, challenges us and prompts us to review our principles and our behavior. It also moves us to look at our own life to discover where the essential is, because we often make the relative into the essential and vice versa.

Throughout history, there have been many epidemics that have left a profound mark on human history. One of these was the devastating plague of Athens in 430 BC, the first documented epidemic in history. The historian Thucydides wrote that the Athenians suddenly discovered that "their lives and wealth were ephemeral".

The current pandemic of AIDS-19, taken as a mirror in which we can see ourselves as individuals and as a society, gives us back the same message as the Athenians. In social isolation or quarantine we discover that the most important thing in life is not the desire to accumulate material goods, but to become richer in humanity, growing more in being than in having.

Covid-19 is making the hierarchy of values headed by hedonism and individualism be challenged by another headed by ethical, social and civic values, such as the common good and communitarianism, which, in turn, are a consequence of the spirit of service. In buildings (not communities) of neighbors who had nothing in common and where everyone went their own way, as a result of the current confinement, offers to do the shopping for free or to bring medicines to elderly people living alone have arisen.

The values that most humanize us are opposed to the individualism we had as individuals and as a society before the pandemic. The pandemic, with its forced confinement, changes our overloaded schedules and our stressed way of life. It reminds us that we are vulnerable, as implied in the biblical story, "The hay withers and the flower falls.... Every man is like hay" (Isaiah 40:6).

Before the health cure, we are receiving a no less necessary humility cure. We realize that we were accustomed to an overbearing way of functioning, characterized by haste, activism and urgency. Now, confined to the family home, we make a virtue of necessity, living quietly, despite the usual bustle of the children.

Looking at ourselves in the mirror of the pandemic, we are discovering that uneasiness is incompatible with happiness; that we need to take care of ourselves and let others take care of us, in order to take care of others; that we need to grow in sensitivity and solidarity with the neediest people; that we must live with more austerity; that technology is for man, and not man for technology.

Tom Cheesewright, an expert in predicting the future of society based on science and technology, believes that one of the first changes will be the end of workshop work as we know it now: "Smart companies will realize that humans are not robots and we will work in more productive ways. This means that we will organize the workshop work schedule according to our vital clock so that we have enough rest".