by #ebbfmember Sovaida Ma’ani Ewing
Famous 20th century psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, pointed out that while we are often faced with situations in life that are beyond our control, one thing that no one can ever take away from us is our choice about how we react to these circumstances. This precious freedom to choose our reactions can spell the difference between living a life fraught with fear, anxiety, and a sense of helplessness, or one that is infused with a sense of meaning and purpose, and marked by serenity, inner peace and joy.
While the coronavirus pandemic and its twin, the global economic recession are causing deep pain and suffering to many and threaten each and every one of us in multiple ways,
we would do well to remember that in the midst of this turmoil, we retain individual and collective choice.
We can either choose to respond to these twin challenges with fear, anxiety, and a complete loss of hope — all of which trigger feelings of apathy and lethargy that ultimately cause us to procrastinate making decisions and taking constructive action.
Alternatively, we can choose to perceive these same circumstances through a different and more empowering lens: what if we view these disasters as a collective test that offers us a prime opportunity to birth the kind of world we have been longing for, a world of peace and security in which the dignity and nobility of each human being is universally acknowledged and upheld?
Choosing to view our reality in this light has several benefits:
We free ourselves from the intense mental and psychological suffering — the deep unhappiness, depression, fear, and anxiety to which we otherwise subject ourselves — a suffering that depletes us and affects our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Not only do we then become ineffective actors in shaping our destiny, but we also become an added burden on others.
This shift in perspective also has the incredible benefit of energizing us with hope. It offers us a vision of what is possible despite the circumstances. It also provides us with tremendous motivation and energy to act tirelessly and with focused determination and perseverance to create the world we want and deserve.
When I look at everything that is happening, I can’t help but think that our global society is going through a period of metamorphosis akin to the one that the caterpillar goes through before it becomes a butterfly.
There are a couple of features of this process that are particularly relevant and shed light on our current process.
The first is that once the caterpillar cocoons itself, it begins a dual process of destroying its old self while simultaneously preparing to emerge as a completely transformed creation.
During this period of cocooning, the butterfly releases enzymes that literally dissolve its former shape, turning it into a messy liquid goo.
At the same time, small clusters of cells called “imaginal discs” that have always been latent in the caterpillar and that are the building blocks of each part of the butterfly-to-be start to multiply and prepare themselves for the emergence of this wondrous new creation.
This building process quickly accelerates eventually yielding a fully-formed butterfly.
These twin processes of integration and disintegration occur simultaneously. Yet, while it’s going on, to all appearances the process seems messy, chaotic, and unpleasant and unlikely to result in anything good.
The second feature is that the new creation is of a higher order than the old, with greater capacities:
While the caterpillar is earth-bound, the butterfly has the new-found ability to fly and, in that sense, to literally rise above and transcend its former limitations.
It also has a broader perspective and is able to see a wide range of possibilities.
The third feature is that despite the initial paucity of imaginal discs, they multiply rapidly in the midst of all the disintegration.
Ultimately, the butterfly is read to emerge at exactly the right time, when there is nothing left of the caterpillar.
What if this process mirrors exactly what we are currently experiencing?
Our old world order is crashing down around our ears. It is undoubtedly messy and painful. We are literally experiencing the implosion of the social, economic, political, environmental, and outworn religious systems we have painstakingly built. Isn’t this likely to be happening because these systems are clearly not fit for us at this stage in our collective historical evolution?
Dare we not hope that what will emerge from this is a radically new global order founded on a radical shift in our very conception of society and of our reality as human beings?
We are already beginning to see some leaders of thought observe that it is time for a completely new approach.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Henry Kissinger observes that no one country, not even the United States, can go it alone to overcome the virus.
He asserts that “addressing the necessities of the moment must ultimately be coupled with a global collaborative vision and program.”
A few days prior to that, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres raised the clarion call for a massive, multilateral response based on “shared responsibility and global solidarity” to build a better world.
He urged us to remember that, “we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world” and observed that our world has irrevocably changed, saying, “We can go back to the world as it was before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crises.”
Let us then grab this opportunity to develop the capacities, powers, moral standards, and institutions fit for our current stage of development.
For this to happen, however, we must hold a vision of the kind of world we really want and deserve — a better world founded on the awareness of the oneness of humanity, a oneness that is the operational principle of international life, including our institutions and the principles upon which they are based.
You can read more of Sovaida’s ideas in one of her books or in her blog series Peace and Collective Security :