My teacher used to say that if a person stands next to a heavy bag and asks people to help him pick it up and mount it on his shoulder, no one will help him. But if he picks up the bag, places it on his shoulder, and the bag almost slips because it’s too heavy for him to carry by himself, everyone around will jump to his assistance. The moral of the story is simple: Before you ask for help, make an effort to help yourself. Then, if you need help, it will come for certain.
Today, more than ever, it is clear that only we can help ourselves. If we wait for government officials to do our work for us, we can wait forever. But through mutual responsibility, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
There are many lessons we can learn from the Covid-19 pandemic, but in my opinion, the single most important takeaway is that we are one system, and the well-being of the system depends on the quality of the connections among its parts. The virus, with its unbelievable ease of contagion, has taught us that an infection anywhere is an infection everywhere. Against our will, it made us responsible for each other’s health, but in doing so, it stressed a truth we had already known: We are completely dependent on each other.
The realization that we are responsible for one another didn’t come only to teach us that we must not infect each other with diseases. It came to show that if we want to have a good life on this planet, we have to connect our hearts, since otherwise we will not have the motivation to do what we must in order to help one another physically.
Put differently, the health crisis we are experiencing with the pandemic is first and foremost a social crisis, a symptom of social disintegration. In fact, if we did not suffer from social disintegration, the majority of crises we are currently experiencing would never materialize. The wave of gun violence in New York City and Chicago, are they not a symptom of social disintegration? The crisis of addiction to prescription and even over the counter drugs that has been killing tens of thousands of Americans each year, is this not due to social disintegration? What about domestic violence, police brutality, racism, fanaticism, sexual abuse, verbal and physical abuse, depression, obesity, the cancel culture, are they all not consequences of social disintegration?
Clearly, the true remedy that we need today is to care for one another, or at least to be responsible for one another. But no one will build social responsibility for us if we don’t do this by ourselves—community after community, city after city, state after state, and all over the country.
Covid-19 is a challenge. And rising to the challenge means that the challenge should raise us to a higher level than before. Otherwise, why did the challenge come in the first place? In the case of the coronavirus, it evidently came in order to raise us from the nadir of isolation to the zenith of connection. This, today, is our road to happiness.