A time to reflect

by Alain Kilajian

"Free to Skype later tonight?”
“Sorry I have a houseparty call. Maybe next week?”

At a time when social distancing makes it impossible to see friends, we seem to be as busy as ever. We’ve just moved our lives online.

I am genuinely impressed with the multitude of ways we can get together virtually. I guess this shows our persevering spirit. We won’t let covid-19 get the better of us!

But maybe it also shows something else. Maybe it shows that we have become too dependent on a certain way of living. We may have gotten so used to fast-paced tech-obsessed lifestyles that we no longer know how to enjoy our own company. How do we entertain ourselves by ourselves without 24/7 entertainment?

We’ve too quickly tried to recreate life as it was before the coronavirus. These are unprecedented times. The status quo is on pause. Our business-as-usual way of doing things is at risk. The decades to come will be even more challenging with threats of epidemics, climate change and resource scarcity. We are currently facing our worst enemy since the Second World War and things don’t look like they will be getting any easier.

So, we should take this time to reflect. The time has come for us to think about our lives, to question our way of doing things, to imagine a better future and define a path to getting there. Together, we can redefine development and reclaim ownership of our economic and political systems.

That being said, on the fifth day of my self-isolation, I was struck by the hopelessness in many of the news headlines.

Coronavirus and the stock market meltdown. Covid-19 sends the world’s markets into free-fall. Is the coronavirus crash worse than the 2008 financial crisis?

I’ll admit my knowledge of economics and finance is limited, but it seemed a little crazy to me that a SARS virus was causing the stock market to collapse. Yet, as shops in my neighborhood began to shutdown due to covid-19, something clicked.

The coronavirus wasn’t causing the markets to crash. We were causing the markets to crash. Our tube fares, our Pret sandwiches, our dry cleaning, our post-work pints, our late night kebabs and all our other daily expenses make up the economy. We are its heart, pumping cash to all its different organs. Once we stop spending, it begins to collapse.

I had never felt so close to the economy. The idea that we could influence the economy had me buzzing. Usually, I am left feeling helpless. Just make sure to pay your bills and don’t amass too much debt. The economy rules over us like a vigilant big brother. Outmuscled again, we feel abandoned and powerless.

We don’t deserve this new sense of ownership. We did not choose to stop spending. It was a reactive decision. Businesses were told to shutdown and we were told to self-isolate. No more planes. No more pubs.

But how about we imagine another scenario, one in which we proactively decide to stop spending or better yet change what we spend on? We have already seen some of the positive impacts of the coronavirus on climate change and air pollution. Streets have been emptied of their cars and skies of their airplanes. Rivers cleared of bottles and parks swept of rubbish. As our lungs continue to be at risk, the air we breathe has never been so clean.

My heart goes out to all the people directly affected by the pandemic. I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of frustration, sadness and grief felt by the thousands of victims and their families. All our lives have and will continue to be affected by the coronavirus. But, as our local shops begin to reopen, what currently feels like an eternity will eventually reach its end. The question we must ask ourselves is what life will look like on the other side. We have the power to decide, so let’s use this time to reflect on how.