Disclaimer: This in no way attempts to discredits or downgrades the seriousness of COVID-19 or any diseases around the world. This is simply an analysis on human behaviour.
My parents come from war-torn countries and found each other in Istanbul, Turkey, 33 years ago. They had one of those Hollywood, boy-meets-girl love stories that could win a Golden Globes award… and then they got married. Settle down, settle down, they’re still (happily) married, only that marriage isn’t a Disney love story; it has its team challenges. Anyway, my point is that while I didn’t grow up in dire conditions, my parents had. They taught me about the illusion of socialism (Algeria being a supposed “social democracy”), and the pain and suffering that comes with Authoritarianism. At the time, I could empathize but could never relate. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I finally understood what they were trying to teach me:
- To be grateful for what I have and where I was yesterday, am today and will be tomorrow; and
- That people are not born equal no matter how much “leaders of the world” insist on adopting models that seem to have potential to bring about equality
Some of you have your noses flared by now; I can feel the how-dare-you through the screen. But, everyone, let’s put down the virtue-signalling flag for a moment and be very – brutally – honest with ourselves. Keep reading and keep an open mind, and give me a chance to explain why these lessons were valuable and will never get old, and how all the while, we can always aim to be and do better.
We’re a disgusting and selfish species
Diana, Princess of Whales, and Mother Teresa were big influencers in our household in the 90s. My mother had the utmost respect for them. When we weren’t singing to Elton John or Mariah Carey, we’d be watching the Princess or Mother Teresa performing an act of kindness, being completely selfless and using their platform to do good. I wanted to be Mother Theresa one day – I figured I could never be a princess, and as a realist, even at eight years old, I wasn’t going to aim for the impossible. Although these two individuals were the epitome of selflessness of their time, they had their skeletons in their closets: Diana being handed a raw deal right from the get-go and having to endure a life of lies, cheating, deceit, and royal pains; and Mother Teresa with her somewhat dogmatic views, alleged homophobia, funded by dictators, and of course the rumour she was a paid brand ambassador to the Catholic Church. Shocking, I know. How could two seemingly selfless and glorified people be so imperfect… so… human? It’s because no matter how much we try to hide our flaws, we remain the most disgusting and selfish species on the planet.
Homo sapiens’ primary distinction from other species is the ability to think, draw conclusions, make choices, and take action. With choices come morals and desires. For the most part, we want to be good and do good, but like Aladdin’s monkey, Abu, we can’t help but be drawn by the desire for riches and power (I recognize I just compared us to a Disney monkey, but bear with me). In other words, every single one of us has a price to be bad.
COVID-19 showed us how privileged and ugly we truly are
There are many factors that influence our intentions: environment, upbringing, social setting, community, friends, our ability to draw logic, our ability to control our emotions and our reaction to outcomes, materialism, and so on. One of our least desirable behaviour is our lack of empathy. To think, it took a virus and global pandemic for some of you to get on a high horse and shout, “we’re all in this together!” On the other hand, that same virus and global pandemic showed us just how willing you’d kill your neighbour for a roll of toilet paper! I mean, how horrendous and shameful it is to be human in 2020. How disgustingly privileged you all are to be able to virtue signal in the comfort of your own homes, and that your biggest problem is whether you’ll need to wipe your rear with the back of your underwear. I’m sorry, not sorry, but I did say to be brutally honest.
To all the virtue-signalling, snobbish, arrogant, working-from-home-so-I’m-still-getting-paid-but-to-all-you-businesses-who-lost-revenue-suck-it-up-because-we’re-all-in-this-together people, this one’s for you: Shut up. Your lack of empathy is showing, your privilege is showing, and you’re disgusting for it. Humble yourselves and stay home because you can, but read the room: you’re not essential, and neither is your virtue-signalling. I’ll be the first to say that I’m blessed and fortunate, and can only imagine what people are going through who have lost their jobs, their businesses, and their livelihood. Show them support, show them love and empathize with them, and let them express their frustration the best way they know.
Once upon a time before COVID-19
The World Health Organization (WHO) released its data on the top ten causes of death in 2016, in May, 2018. According to the WHO, here were the leading causes of death in 2016 and please accept this in its simplicity to make a point, and not some detailed research on how, when, why, where these causes of death occur.
I want to reiterate my disclaimer that I am not attempting to downgrade the dangers of COVID-19 in any way. However, I do find it interesting how good intentions and goodwill closely correlate with relatability. For example, in 2016, the leading cause of death was heart disease. Heart disease is not contagious as the graph clearly shows us (Noncommunicable diseases) even though millions of people die from it. The majority of us wake up not giving it a second thought. Some of us may go as far as justifying our lack of empathy, shaming people with heart disease the same way obesity is shamed, “Ah, Bob, shouldn’t have eaten all those burgers and fries, tsk, tsk!”
It seems that as human beings, we can desensitize and turn a blind eye to causes of death that don’t affect us. In other words, the moment our livelihood is threatened seems to be the only time we show any form of empathy. The mere fact that COVID-19 can potentially kill us is what drives us to be all virtue-signalling Good Samaritans and shame those who refuse to participate. For example, approximately 9 million people died of hunger in 2019 (NPR, 2020). How many of you knew that? Heck, I didn’t even know that. Eye-opening. How many of you wake up in the morning and think we’re all in this together; we need to find a way to end world hunger? How many Western governments care about people in the East and war-torn countries dying of starvation? How many of you know what has been going on in Yemen over the last five years? How many of you stood alongside the Yemeni people and cried out, “We’re all in this together!”? Be honest, your privilege blinds you from the atrocities of the world, yet you walk around all high and mighty because you wear a mask and work-from-home.
Be calm, kind, humble, and use your privilege to do good
The point I was trying to make is that human beings are innately selfish. From the moment we learn to hold a toy in our hands, instinctively, we discover ownership and possession. Sharing is a behaviour that is taught either indirectly through social and environmental factors or directly through parenting/guardianship. Most human beings aim to do good and share their wealth and material through donations. They also use their platform to share their knowledge and to bring awareness to issues. But as I mentioned earlier, everyone has a price, and I believe that the more privileged one is (monetary, power, or otherwise), the more likely their good intentions come with ulterior motives. The other point I was trying to make is relatability. If it doesn’t hurt us, it won’t bother us. Western governments don’t talk about how they want to solve world hunger. Honestly, we can barely get our government to talk about drinking water in Indigenous communities, let alone world hunger. Without relatability, it’s hard for us to empathize and easy for us to turn a blind eye. But it’s never too late to turn things around. With access to technology and the ability to expand our outreach, we can take bigger strides at making a positive difference in our lives and the lives of others:
- Be calm: Hysteria leads to irrational behaviour and escalates situations.
- Be kind: There’s a reason why we say, “Kill them with kindness.” Kindness is contagious – pay it forward.
- Be humble: Stop virtue-signalling. Instead, lead by example. Acknowledge your privilege and put yourself in the shoes of others. If you can’t, then support them in the best way you know how.
- Use your privilege to do good: If you’re in a position to help, then help, and take it one step at a time.
We’re never going to be perfect, and there will always be a little selfishness in all of us. However, continue choosing to do good every day, because as easy as it is to treat others poorly, the rewards of doing good are priceless. Remember, helping one person might not change the world, but it could change the world for one person.