Is it “embarrassing” to be human?

“How embarrassing to be human” wrote Kurt Vonnegut. I am not really a die-hard fan of science fiction, but perhaps counterculture and satire can be my starting point here. I have been thinking that in the current crisis, we humans should be able to do better than “just” staying at home and wait for the moment we’ll be going back to normality, because there’s a war out there and that would be tantamount to doing nothing. If you ask me, that is!

It has been said by psychologists, Boris Cyrulnik amongst them, that many of us had hardly moved beyond the resistance approach, when resistance should be the initial phase towards achieving resilience. Resilience is key in the times we are going through. True, we have never ever ever experienced anything like this and we know we have brutally landed into a new world that is fraught with danger and novelty—even the covid virus has been named “novel”. If this were put into an equation, it could not be resolved as every part of it is an unknown. So we should be busy getting ready for the next stage and for our novel life.

I am a French native and English having been my “second native language” for so many years, I speak and read and write just as naturally in English. However, something’s happened to my writing recently. I have tended to feel like writing in English, as if it had become my “preferred language” over French. And that’s not an acknowledgement that English is the lingua franca of the 21st century, even more so than it has been the international language of the 20th. That is because of my living experience of the English language. English means resilience to me. I have spoken it from an early age, but when I started using it on a daily basis in my life and at work, I was already an adult and was going through a phase when I had to be strong and fend for myself. So if I rely on English at this precise moment in the current crisis, that means hopefully that I am on a proactive path and have embraced resilience, at least I hope so!

If I write this post, this is because I sense that the overwhelming majority of us are still in “resistance” mode, still in the moment and only in the moment. A few days ago, I spoke to a friend who seemed to have given up trying anything beyond being passive. His life revolved around watching Netflix and reading the news. He clearly said he did not have the mental strength to see beyond the “now”. True, being in the moment is what we need because we have a lot to worry about presently and overthinking the future sounds counterproductive and a waste of time. How can one be planning when it’s hard enough sorting out the fake news from the facts and we do not know how our lives after lockdown are going to look like. It is unbearable because even our governments are struggling too, some having turned the fake news culture into an art form.

There are two sides to the coin. Since the start of the outbreak, we have heard and read that we ought to stay safe and to stay connected. Being in lockdown and confined, in some countries more strictly than in others, has been an opportunity to reflect on a number of topics and prioritise. Apparently, some have managed to go back to basics and reason and brainstorm even, this is all over Twitter! For others it has been impossible.

Not all of us have been in a position to embrace a “less is more” approach, a Zen attitude, read Penguin’s classics in a cosy armchair sipping green leaf tea, while fighting for one’s business and helping out teenagers going through the rest of the school year with online tools that pose a potential threat of personal data breach? And how can we fight for our career and our  business when we are fighting a pandemic and worried sick about our children, family and friends? We have clearly suffered due to information overkill. But faced with an invisible enemy, we should be able to put up our defences and I wonder if staying at home for so long has not made us lower our guard.

So we have been in the now. Today, as easing measures on lockdown are being enforced in a number of countries, we are likely to stumble on both new issues and the old ones, revisited. Is it not high time we started reflecting on the whole experience, so we can plan ahead? In a nutshell—what world do we want to live in tomorrow?

So far, we have witnessed a 30% reduction in world pollution. We have all seen dolphins swimming happily in the Med and crystal-clear waters in Venice. In continental Europe, lockdown enforcement has avoided 11,000 fatalities otherwise caused by pollution. Covid-19 has spread more widely and has been more fatal in heavily polluted areas, e.g. New York, Milan, London, Venice.

Preliminary studies link air pollution to coronavirus deaths. Now, experts fear that there will be a boomerang effect if production goes back to pre-covid levels and that we will face an ever worse rise in air pollution. Scientists have said that if the destruction of nature is not halted, we will suffer even worse pandemics in the near future.

Across the Atlantic, there has been particular concern over air pollution emitted by industrial facilities, which are predominately located in communities with large numbers of low-income people and people of colour. In the US, companies will not face any sanctions for polluting the air or breaking pollution laws during coronavirus pandemic. Polluters will be able to ignore environmental laws as long as they can claim that these violations were caused by the covid-19 pandemic, the Guardian reported on 27 March 2020.

On a smaller scale, now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and that we can safely say people should not have to be cooped up during summer, how are things going to pan out when can all catch up on two months’ reduced activity. I think I can safely say that I do not want to go back to live like before. I am not alone. But how do people in general really feel?

So many of us have lost their jobs and seen the outlook of their careers and future prospects brutally changed. At this stage, no one can say if this is for the better or if it’s all bleak, and there is a lot of anxiety in our lives. There is also pent-up energy, frustration and anger.

How is this bundle of mixed feelings going to express itself once the bans are lifted —notably in countries such as Spain, for instance, where the lockdown and self-isolation rules have been the strictest in the western world? Is this going to lead to excessive behaviour and bingeing. Yesterday was the inaugural day of the plan to ease on lockdown in Spain for over 14 year-olds. The result was abysmal. This was a sad show of collective hysteria, with cyclists, pedestrians and joggers literally running into each other, oblivious of social distancing and basic human rights. Are we going to need helicopters hovering around our heads blaring out instructions and police cars equipped with PA systems to protect us from ourselves? If Mr Orwell woke up today and come back to life in the 21st century, would he say that we live in Oceania indeed and that reality has imitated art? This has to be mentioned at some point. Are we going to have to scale up the confinement measures because herd immunity is not attainable without collapsing the health sector and people would rather parade around mask-free deluding themselves with the idea that they have recovered their freedom, rather than protect themselves and, more importantly, each other?

Will this be our tomorrow? Did we not say we did not want to go back to the world of before? The covid-19 crisis should be a potent wake-up call for humanity.

Did this article spur any reactions? Let us have your thoughts then please?

food for thought
Food for thought?!

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Isabelle Rouault-Röhlich

A versatile and passionate linguist, as well as an environmentalist, I endeavour to make sure that words keep their true colours during the process that involves going from one language and culture to another, instead of fading away in the great multilingual and Euro-English wash! I am a great believer in translation and interpreting as a means of conveying a clear and more poignant message for an ever more demanding multilingual audience. I also believe that a polished written message is a powerful tool to advance progress. I am a mother of two and these two are my light beacon! I am French born and bred although I have always spoken English and developed a special connection with the culture and language from a very early age, as my grandad worked for the British Embassy in Paris. I am also a lover of Spain. My husband is Franco-German. How is this for an interesting language ensemble?!

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