I’m writing this from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where the schools have been closed for at least three weeks and almost everyone is working from home. Only the most vital functions in society are still fully operational: people in healthcare, educators, law enforcement, fire brigades, government, etc. I’m sure most of you across the globe are experiencing something similar or will soon. We can still go outside on the streets here and when you do, you see a new kind of society. I see parents with their kids playing, educating, shopping. The rat race has come to a full stop. Everyone nods at each other in mutual understanding. I wondered: can you imagine when society stays like this, what it would feel like? Of course, we have to beat that virus (it’s horrible, no question about that), but can you imagine a society in which the truly important functions are really valued for what they do? Can you imagine a society in which the rest of us are just taking a step back and have come to terms with ‘less’?
Striking educators, healthcare professionals and law enforcement
In the Netherlands we’ve seen strike after strike in the last few months. Educators demanded less pressure on their jobs and better payments to keep the system up. Healthcare professionals demanded more as well, as what they are paid is ridiculous in comparison to the meaningful work they are doing. Law enforcement, fire brigade people etc. demanded just a little bit more safety from civilians that attack them while they work. And farmers wanted to be able to produce food for our society without being limited in their work because the rest of us prefer to sit in our cars to work every day. But they got nowhere with their demands. However, right now it almost seems as if the universe has aligned with them. All of a sudden we have this immediate threat to what matters most to us: our lives. And now we shut up and shut everything down that doesn’t really matter all that much. And everyone is in full support of these people that do make a difference. Now we value them, now we need them. Maybe we should keep that up after this pandemic starts to slow down.
The rest of us are in the backseat now
And the rest of us are slowing down. I have people around me, that are wondering what they’ve been doing up until this point. Was the work, and the stress related to that work, so important that they had to push everything to its boundaries? At the start of the year I wrote a post about entering a new decade: an era of less. I’ve called it the lessera. I have been struggling myself to find solutions for how I could do with less. The moment we are going through right now is showing us how it is possible to do with less. We can travel less to work and do things from home. We can work less and be home for our kids, just to name a few things.
At least at this short moment (who knows what tomorrow and the weeks after will look like), the world looks a whole lot better when we organize ourselves that way. There were no traffic jams today, there’s a calmness in the city and I see a whole lot more (emotional) connection than ever before. A friend who’s view on life I value tremendously, rabbi Irwin Kula from New York said it beautifully yesterday: “physical distancing invites us to develop new ways and opportunities to innovate emotional and psychological nearing”. I agree so much with that: we shouldn’t let this momentum go down in history as a pause of society after which we all jumped right back at it. I think we should see this moment as a reset and understand what is important and valuable and see if we can identify new principles for a more sustainable future for all (after we’ve beaten this virus). We are all in this together and the power of community that that generates makes the world so much better. Let’s embrace that and figure out for yourself these days: how can I do with less? How can I organize in ways that are more sustainable for the world, but more importantly for yourself?
Stay safe and take care… of each other.