COVID-19: A challenge to reason

Source: Photo by Joerg Geier

I understand everybody’s concerns, fear and perhaps even panic in light of the coronavirus. And yet, in the context of this crisis, which is not only a health crisis but one of meaning and existence, many questions arise for me concerning personal behavior, group behavior and also the behavior towards others. It is often a thin line between what we grant to ourselves and others. Where does one’s own liberty end and where does somebody else’s begin!?

It is also a fine line to form our own opinion which may differ from what an authority grants us.

I don’t light-heartedly ignore medical advice or regulations that are based on sound (scientific) evidence. Nevertheless, I also allow myself to weigh up what is acceptable to me on the basis of the facts at hand.

For me, the question arises whether the side effects due to the imposed safety rules are possibly more serious than strict compliance with the rules. And I’m not even thinking primarily of the economic effects but of the impact on the physical and mental wellbeing as well as our behaviors that define us as individuals, a group, community or nation. And of course, here too, the notion of balance, mindfulness and solidarity plays an important role — values I hold high.

But it is also important to weigh up those values against something far less noble, namely herd mentality and corresponding behaviors.

Independent thinking vs. herd mentality

Fear often evokes a herd mentality which may result in behavior otherwise not condoned. Fear of “the other” has led us more than once in history to put labels on people who may be different or think and act differently from the accepted (or ruling) majority. And with this I don’t mean an unreflected act of defiance. I am referring to independent thinking in light of groupthink which may be even more pertinent when authorized or enforced by a public authority.

The truth is usually in the eye of the beholder, even if others seemingly think the same or identify with the same reality. One may be inclined to say that sometimes black is simply black and white is white. I dare to say that’s hardly ever the case. Especially during challenging times it is ever more important to think independently while having the wellbeing of others and oneself in mind, from a higher-level perspective as much as from a very practical one.

Linear thinking vs. systems thinking

A lesson this crisis teaches us is one of complexity. It is the famous butterfly effect come alive: the shock waves of a seemingly isolated event can be felt thousands of miles away and have devastating consequences. Applying linear thinking (which may help us resolve simple problems) to complex problems is bound to fail us. A complex system cannot be dissected into its parts without losing its identity. Therefore, we need to apply systems thinking in order to understand the various interconnected parts.

Let us keep in mind that there are many other equally complex challenges in this world which require us to reflect and act with foresight. This is true to ourselves individually as much as it is true to us collectively.

“For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

​Innovation Consultant (Sustainability); Fulbright Scholar; Member, Club of Rome; Founding & Advisory Board Member, Arts & Nature Social Club

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