The glasses and the north star. From COVID-19 to universal well-being


The COVID-19 pandemic has become the first major global and systemic crisis in the welfare society since its consolidation after World War II, becoming a universal challenge that arises from our contemporary life models, and holistically appeals at the individual, social and planetary levels. We need to remember, however, that our welfare society was already damaged before the pandemic, and again families, communities and disadvantaged countries will be the most vulnerable during this crisis.

First understanding: the glasses

In the midst of this unprecedented wave that shakes us individually and socially, we are experiencing a clear lack of political, human, and planetary leadership that support us to understand what the challenge is and contributes to appease the spirits of the population. Also, our political representatives worldwide are not helping to narrow the challenge, to generate trust, unity or citizen commitment. Beyond the lack of coordination between countries or regions, political leaders are clearly failing to conceptualize the dayly events. A clear example is the warlike language of the dominant narrative to frame the COVID-19 crisis: war against the virus, attack, war medicine, battle, the new Pearl Harbor or the invisible enemy. Using a war language in the face of the situation we are living is like using glasses from the 20th century to observe the events of the 21st century. In this sense, the analogy is not neutral, in my opinion it denotes a nationalistic stamp, it places us defensively in a scenario of excessive fear and alarm, it inhibits a larger perspective and in sum, it reduces the complexity of the challenge we are facing as individuals and as a society.

However, the context of the events push us to change our glasses so that we can see and understand a new scenario that makes visible the transition from the individual to the collective, from unity to system, from a single country to the whole world. One of the evidences of this crisis is that our local systems are not watertight and cannot be understood as an isolated unit. On the contrary, they are closely connected, learn from one another, and are completely interdependent in all their expressions: health, education, economics, culture, art, sport, etc. So we see how the well-being of one person depends on the well-being of another, and the well-being of one country depends on the other’s, and we all depend on the well-being of the planet we live in. And we have seen how a small virus has taken advantage of this hyperconnectivity to become wide and powerful. 

Certainly, this is how our planet and its biosphere works, systematically fed by the daily photon stream of our mother star, the sun. The 21st century requires both a systemic perspective on our thinking to better understand the opportunities offered by social reality, as well as a systemic, collective and aligned action that brings together and weave actors from diverse sectors, levels of administration, disciplines, cultures, expertise, etc. Therefore, the more systemic the action and the responses to the new challenges the more spaces of reality we will be covering, the more people we will reach and, ultimately, the more effective we will be in responding to existing problems.

And then acting: the north star

On the other hand, the crisis we are experiencing does not simply push us to change our glasses but also urges us to find our north star as a shared human and planet horizon. And this will be a circle of bottom up and top down processes, tensions and dialogue. We must be aware that it will be on this quest when the economic and political powers with their powerful influential arms will raise their voice again, if they have stopped doing so. These axes of power are as hyper-connected and poignant as the COVID-19, and will seek to adapt to the new environment, mutate and become stronger not only to maintain their status, but to expand their benefits in the new scenario. Some raising questions are: how inmune will be all to this type of virus after the whole COVID-19 experience? and how attached will all be to our old normality? 

In my opinion, the world to come will be the one we will build together, and I mean all the people who inhabit the planet. The new normality will also bring new shared horizons that will place people and the planet we share in the center of the system, as a source of life and love. Therefore, we must use the social forces of human interconnection and consciousness to align ourselves with a new north star that that support global thriving. Colleagues from the Weaving Lab have been working on the concept of ‘universal well-being’ as a common north star, as a renewed ‘common good’ that: 1- lands the abstract idea of ‘good’ into the concept of well-being; 2- includes the planet and nature as a living entity; and 3- wears systemic glasses and inter-weaves the fabrics of individual, social and planetary well-being. Thus, the moment we are living pushes us to collectively seek for univsal well-being as a matter of survival, and bring us a clear example: is the time to decide either close borders in the world or make sure everyone is immune to the virus.

Therefore, the search for our north star will be accompanied by many deep human-sense questions. In moments of crisis and suffering we all connect with what really nourishes and gives us life, and this process help us to update our priorities. At this point, we will all need to reshape our habits and ruminate on whether we really need to consume or travel the way we used to. And before anyone else does it for us, we will need to question which parts of the economy we want to restore and which parts we want to let go. And it is here that we must remember the shortcomings of the lack of public investment in health, research and education, or the effects of the offshoring of our economy. It will be time to ask if we are ready to continue to neglect children, young people, adults and whole families because of the social inequalities sustained by our system. Or if we want to continue leaving aside the grandparents who gave us everything. And with determination, we must also ask ourselves if we are accompanying, educating and training our children for universal well-being. I assume this will be the moment where people, from local to global, will have to join forces to think interconnectedly in order to co-build a new universal welfare society.

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