If you were a parent with teenage children, and you had to leave the house for the weekend, how terrified would you be that when you returned you’d find your tidy home turned upside down? And what would you do if you came back and discovered that your nightmare has come true? This is exactly what we humans have done to our home, Planet Earth: We’ve messed it up and turned it upside down. In comparison to the damage we’ve done, you could say that Mother Nature’s “punishment,” which is largely a “Go to your separate rooms” order, is more than mild; it is compassionate!
Mother Nature is silent; she speaks with actions, not words, but she is a dedicated teacher. If we are attentive, she will usher us into a new world of happiness and prosperity. If we are obstinate, her punishments will grow continuously harsher.
The first lesson she gave us was to stay home. By doing so, she told us that we have been nasty to each other and nasty to our home. Miraculously, within a few short weeks, she cleaned most of the mess and the water and air became clear and clean.
But being shut in our houses for a few weeks did not prove to us that we simply have to change. It only stopped our destruction of the planet and finally managed to show us that we had been doing wrong to Nature. However, it did not articulate what it is we have to do in order not to keep on being so malevolent.
This will be our next lesson, which we will experience in the weeks and months to come. As economies all over the world reopen, we will find that many of the businesses that were the backbone of our society and fueled our mindset of extreme self-entitlement and narcissism have lost their charm. They will go bankrupt not because the government did not support them, but because the public has lost interest in those gadgets and accessories.
As a result of the shift in people’s mindsets after the prolonged lockdown and its impact on businesses, unemployment rates will remain dangerously high with no sign of relief. On the contrary, as more and more jobs become automated, joblessness will only increase, posing a palpable threat of violent social unrests, hunger driven riots, rampant homelessness, a drop in school retention and other social problems that will undermine the stability of society.
These COVID-19 aftershocks will compel governments to adopt more society driven policies. Policy makers will have to take into consideration the needs of the unfortunate; they will have to provide them with both decent incomes during the time when they cannot sustain themselves, and they will have to help them become better educated so they can integrate in the new world. In this way, the virus will teach the authorities to think more socially and establish a more considerate economic system.
Here, too, as in the lockdown lesson, the quicker we learn, the less painful and more successful the lesson will be.
In the new world, the most required career will be teaching. People will need teachers in the professions required in the automated era, but the most required teaching subject will be social skills: people who will help us learn how to communicate in a society whose values are radically different from the hostile environment we hopefully left behind.
The virus has made everyone equal: From heads of state to janitors, from tycoons to street sweepers, everyone is vulnerable. This is a humbling and healthy experience for all of society. It allows us to truly place ourselves in the shoes of others. We would not have come to it were it not for the virus, but now that we have, we will never want to go back. This is why we will need teachers—to enhance and develop our social skills of empathy, solidarity, and mutual responsibility.
The threat of the virus will not dissolve so quickly. We will need it for a while longer, if only to remind us of the pain caused by disobeying its lessons. But the more we grow into the paradigm of giving, the less we will need the bullying guard at the exit from the old world. So one day, in the foreseeable future, we will discover that we have entered a new world of hope, confidence, and joy.