Lessons to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic

Young men with face masks standing in front of a billboard with image of Gandhi and Indian flag

At different times the world has witnessed sufferings from epidemics of different types, natural disaster like earthquakes, flood, tsunami, man-made tragedies of communal violence and terrorism. We have witnessed death and destruction during wars. Two world wars had killed millions of innocent human beings in different countries, caused unending pollution in the world. Though these tragedies, epidemics and calamities affected a particular country or a few countries at a particular time, they did not affect the whole world like the Covid-19 pandemic.

When China was first affected by the Coronavirus and people were dying in Wuhan, other countries took it as an ordinary epidemic which had affected a particular region in faraway China. Nobody was aware of the seriousness of this virus which is faster and more powerful than any missile used in modern warfare. Even after signs of the virus were detected in other countries they took it for granted as an ordinary health problem. Powerful developed countries were complacent of their advanced medical and scientific facilities. By the time the virus spread from one part of the country to the other, crossed boundaries and flew across the oceans, these countries stumbled before its ruthless invasion.

Within few days, all the fifty states of America were captured by the deadly virus that took the lives of over 20,000 252 persons as per the information available on 12 April 21 March 2020, a number that grew in leaps and bounds daily! European countries like Italy, Spain, France, Germany and even the United Kingdom bore the brunt of the deadly virus.

We do not have any control of the time and place of meeting death. What is in our control is the way to live our lives. We can choose our priorities, values, activities and relationships. We do not have any choice to decide the time, place and the manner of our death. However we have a choice for what cause we should live. We have the choice how to use our time, talents, wealth and other resources.

Several countries declared a war-like emergency. Many countries like India sealed their borders and international flights were cancelled to prevent the spread of the virus. The world had never faced such a helpless situation in its history. Rich countries with money, power and powerful military that never experienced any external threat from anywhere stand helpless before the virus. The economy is crumbling and health systems are getting paralysed day by day.

Powerful countries were proud of the sophisticated missiles and aircrafts which could attack enemy countries.  They were sure of protecting their land, sea and sky with their technology. By possessing advanced science and technology they thought that they could control the world. With nuclear bombs they could dictate to the weak and poor nations. But, the virus has humbled all the mighty rulers and counties. They are not able to save their people from the invisible enemy invading every nook and corner of their countries. They had to realize that there are factors more powerful than wealth, military might and technological development.

Human beings need to thank God, the creator of the universe, for all the developments. All countries and their rulers should admit that they are only trustees of God’s gifts. They should accept the truth that the resources which are at their disposal are for the whole humanity and they are duty bound to share them for the good of all. Greed, accumulation and exploitation of the weak are against the very plan of God.   
Earthquakes, tsunamis, epidemics and pandemics like Covid-19 are not in our control. Hundreds of people die in accidents and sudden illness. Death is a reality and certainty. We do not have any control of the time and place of meeting death. What is in our control is the way to live our lives. We can choose our priorities, values, activities and relationships. We do not have any choice to decide the time, place and the manner of our death. However we have a choice for what cause we should live. We have the choice how to use our time, talents, wealth and other resources.

On my part, I also need to ask some pertinent questions here: If I die today for what SHOULD people remember me? How many people SHOULD remember me? How long SHOULD they remember me? These questions will provide us focus, values and right priorities. The words of Martin Luther King Jr are very relevant here, “If you have not identified the cause for which you have to die, you have no reason to live!”

Several preventive measures are enacted worldwide to prevent spreading of the deadly Coronavirus. Scientists all over the world are working day and night to invent a life-saving vaccine to stop the virus. All government departments and political leaders are working on a war footing to stop the deadly virus.

While we are forced to sit at home free from all our social engagements and hectic schedule of work for fear of the virus, it is fitting that we think of the more deadly virus which has brought more destruction all over the world. I am talking about the virus of hatred, violence, revenge and discrimination. Over the centuries how many lives were lost because of the virus of religious and ethnic conflicts?

Revenge, hatred, discrimination, exploitation, greed for power and wealth by countries and by individuals should be stopped. The vaccination/anti-virus for this is within our reach. We have to draw it out from within and use it generously. Only then will the civilization of love be established, and humanity will be free from all deadly viruses.

Millions of people in our own country have lost their lives to this deadly virus right from the partition days. In 1984, this virus took the lives of thousands of Sikhs. In 1992, this virus of hatred and revenge brought death and destruction of thousands across the country after the demolition of a mosque (Babri Masjid). This virus struck again in 1993 in Mumbai, in 2002 in Gujarat, in 2008 in Kandhamal in Orissa and again recently in 2020 in Delhi.

When the whole world was battling with the Coronavirus, a large number of people were celebrating in India the hanging of four men in Tihar jail in Delhi on 20 March. They were convicted of raping and murdering a young girl seven years ago in New Delhi. The parents of the girl and many others were distributing sweets and shouting ‘Justice is done’ early in the morning. Many politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressed satisfaction over the hanging of four young men. 

Hardly anyone tries to find out how many rapes are prevented by hanging the rapists? Every day several women, girls and even little girls are raped and murdered in the most heinous way in different parts of India. Hardly any large scale protests take place against these rapes and murders. Why don’t people learn from the example of many who manifested extraordinary compassion and forgiveness to those who brutally murdered their dear ones as anti-virus or vaccination against this deadly virus of hatred and revenge?

History is full of women and men who left their legacy of peace and forgiveness. Forgiveness was one of the pre-conditions set by Jesus Christ to be his disciples. He categorically demanded, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and bless those who persecute you”. He himself set an example by forgiving those who falsely accused and crucified him. Forgiveness was the core value which led Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi to build friendships with those who persecuted and oppressed them. In our own times Gladys Staines set an example by forgiving those who burnt her husband and two sons. Sonia Gandhi petitioned the Supreme Court of India to change the death sentence to save Nalini, one of the accused who murdered her husband Rajiv Gandhi purely because of her compassion for the widow and mother of a girl child.

While we are forced to sit at home free from all our social engagements and hectic schedule of work for fear of the virus, it is fitting that we think of the more deadly virus which has brought more destruction all over the world. I am talking about the virus of hatred, violence, revenge and discrimination.

The world is suffering from the onslaught of Coronavirus because there is no vaccine/anti-virus to treat this deadly virus. Scientists are making their best efforts to invent one. The vaccine and anti-virus to prevent the virus of hatred, revenge, discrimination and violence are entrusted with us by God through the life, example and teachings of saints and sages.

Virus of insensitivity

Insensitivity and exclusion are the other common viruses which kill and destroy many lives. While the country is panic struck because of the Coronavirus, does anyone give a thought to the fact that 7000 Indians die every day due to tuberculosis, making the yearly figure of 2,20,000? Nobody takes note of this tragedy seriously because those who die are poor people. Do we know that 7000 Indians die of hunger every day making it a yearly figure of 25 lakh? They are killed by the virus of insensitivity which has infected those who run the government and the society at large. More than 3000 children die of malnutrition in India every day making it 2.2 million every year.

Revenge, hatred, discrimination, exploitation, greed for power and wealth by countries and by individuals should be stopped. The vaccination/anti-virus for this is within our reach. We have to draw it out from within and use it generously. Only then will the civilization of love be established, and humanity will be free from all deadly viruses.

If we do not destroy this virus, it will destroy the wonderful creation of God. Each one of us will be held responsible for this. St Francis of Assisi invented an anti-virus expressed in his prayer, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. Perhaps we can rephrase it in our context to help us build a civilization of love:

Virus of hatred to be countered by the anti-virus of love;
Virus of injury and hurt to be countered by the antivirus vaccine of pardon;
Virus of doubt, suspicion and prejudice to be countered by the vaccine of trust;
Virus of despair to be countered by the antivirus vaccine of hope;
Virus of sadness to be countered by the antivirus vaccine of joy and cheerfulness;
Virus of violence to be countered by the anti-virus vaccine of acts of peace;  Virus of discrimination to be countered by antivirus vaccine of human dignity and freedom;
Virus of exclusiveness to be countered by the anti-virus vaccine of Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam, the universal solidarity.   

Instead of getting frightened and panicky, we should trust in the power of God who is living within us with all power and goodness. Viruses like Covid-19 may take away our bodies. Daily use of the above anti-virus will save our souls enabling us to leave a legacy behind, giving life to millions of people. Let us live and love in such a way that we matter to everyone who comes in contact with us!

Varghese Alengaden
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Varghese Alengaden

Varghese Alengaden is the Founder and National Co-ordinator of Universal Solidarity Movement of Value Education for Peace. He is also the Founder President of the National Peace Movement and has authored 30 books.