Via Basel: One Year and Counting
On March 16, 2020, I posted my first commentary on the pandemic in its early days, suggesting reflection and introspection as an antidote to the ennui resulting from the forced isolation and disruption of our lives. Since then, there has been an avalanche of well-intentioned advice from columnists, philosophers, psychologists, physicians, and other experts. There has also been a cascade of false, unsubstantiated, and at times outright crazy rumors, especially online, regarding the pandemic. The fact that we were mostly homebound, unable to socialize and be entertained, made us more vulnerable to be manipulated and seduced. We probably can agree that confusion, anxiety, and even fear were ubiquitous among the populace, especially if we added the elements of social unrest and political instability. With a year’s worth of experience of this new phenomena under our belt, it’s time to pause, take a deep breath, and intentionally re-evaluate, recalibrate, and re-think our way out of this mess. Why is that imperative? And how do we go about it?
In most aspects, going back to a previous “normal” is not only an unattainable illusion but plain wrong and immoral in my view. This catastrophe has exposed so many fault lines and vulnerabilities in our society, especially in such critical areas as health and economics. Attempting to go back to what was, the falsely idealistic past, is to miss a once in a generation opportunity for transformation on both an individual and communal level.
As to how, and at the expense of sounding too simplistic, this re-evaluation is doable if we use some tools. I was intrigued by this paragraph from the recent book Think Again by Adam Grant: “Who you are should be a question of what you value, not what you believe. Values are your core principles in life–they might be excellence and generosity, freedom and fairness, or security and integrity. Basing your identity on these kinds of principles enables you to remain open-minded about the best ways to advance them. You want a doctor whose identity is protecting health, the teacher whose identity is helping students learn, and the police chief whose identity is promoting safety and justice. When they define themselves by values rather than opinions, they buy themselves the flexibility to update their practices in light of new evidence.” After last year, it is obvious that we have major problems to tackle, and flexibility in updating the practices we have used in the past is at the core of any solutions to these diverse issues. In a brief essay like this the details may be missing but principles can be emphasized. You may not agree with all of Adam Grant’s recommendations, but he does offer practical ways to deal with subjects ranging from parenting to politics, and education to corporations, as well as a lot in between. A good place to start.
Suffice it to say that in this ever-changing world if we do not start thinking differently, shedding some of our dearest beliefs, we will eventually be drowning in the rapid present currents or fossilized in the forgotten past, rather than be part of a dynamic and hopeful future. The whole is made of its parts. Transforming it depends on changes in all its parts. Do your part.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, and social engagement.