Man is not that bad at all. In fact, it’s actually quite good. If you, dear reader, have any doubts, you can read a few arguments for this thesis in Rutger Bregman’s book “Basically Good”. Or you can simply wait for the next few days and weeks. Then you will notice it yourself.
You will find that something is missing. Because Angela Merkel has appealed to all of us to largely do without social contacts in the near future. Virologists advise us not to go to restaurants or clubs or to parties. The hashtag #StayTheFuckHome is the order of the day.
Slowly we should be aware of the responsibility
It is important, yes, urgent that we adhere to these recommendations in order to save time in the fight against the novel corona virus. Slowly, we should all be aware of this responsibility, especially towards older citizens and people with previous illnesses.
But why is it so difficult for many of us to just stay at home, alone, in peace? On the one hand, because there can be no such calm in times of uncertainty and maybe even panic. But on the other hand mainly because in extreme situations people usually stick together, stand by each other and help each other.
“No other people,” writes author Bill McKibben in an essay for the “New Yorker,” which is hell: “The strangest thing about the corona virus is that we cannot help each other to get through it.” We cannot lay hands on, we can only wash them.
McKibben refers to other major crisis situations in history in which people would have helped each other with altruistic behavior: the great earthquake in San Francisco in 1906 or hurricane Katrina. Of course, September 11th comes to mind.
The attack on the World Trade Center and the weeks and months afterwards are also a good example of how people come together in dealing with misfortune and its processing and seek diversion in concerts or sporting events – events that no longer have a right to exist in the times of Corona.
The importance of public figures in times of crisis
In times of crisis, people in public life who we look up to and who we can use to guide ourselves are also of great importance. That could be politicians: Helmut Schmidt became a legend in Hamburg as mayor and crisis manager during the 1962 flood disaster. Gerhard Schröder’s re-election as Federal Chancellor was only possible in 2002 when he demonstrated “leadership in rubber boots” during the great Elbe flood.
In these moments, Schmidt and Schröder took away the worst possible feeling: to be on your own. Politicians are not necessarily required for this reinsurance. Bruce Springsteen gave the anecdote more than once, as an unknown driver in New Jersey called to him a few days after 9/11, “Bruce, we need you now!” The rock musician, himself an icon of American culture, subsequently wrote an entire album about life in New York after the catastrophe with “The Rising”.
There is, of course, also the downside that such authorities can assume: George W. Bush, as the then US President, permanently flew his crisis management around Hurricane Katrina, and the consequences of Donald Trump’s handling of the corona virus are not in the slightest foreseeable – classic examples in which people feel let down by supposed role models and therefore feel all the more isolated.
Moments when they instead turn to friends, colleagues, neighbors, where they come together and hold each other. And so it is difficult for many of us to process the uncertain situation more or less alone within our own four walls. But there is no alternative and it will remain the biggest challenge in the coming weeks and months.
Corona virus: The price of social isolation is high
Because the price of social isolation is high, alone: we notice it less and less outside of exceptional situations. McKibben refers to studies that show that the number of young people meeting friends in the United States has been dropping dramatically since 2012 – the moment when more than half of Americans owned a smartphone. Avoiding social contacts is not ordered from above, as is currently the case, but chosen by yourself – and is related to a rapidly increasing number of mental illnesses.
Perhaps we will appreciate the end of our house arrest if it comes sometime, because the emergency has reminded us of what we had almost forgotten. “It will be a relief,” McKibben writes, “if we can take care of each other again.” After all, we can still do that best.