Something that really fascinated me early on in this crisis was the sort of paradox of being together in our aloneness. At the same time that we’re spending so much of our time sequestered–alone in our homes and in our heads–almost everyone is dealing with similar issues and similar issues of loneliness and cabin fever. The degree of these two aspects is extreme as well–almost complete self-isolation, with almost everyone in most of the world trying to manage the virus at the same time. There’s an enormous amount of responsibility as well as pressure being placed on the individual (and especially certain individuals) for the benefit of the collective good.
Last week my boss shared this picture with us. As the Japanese explains, the three letters that make up the word “corona” in Japanese (shorthand for “coronavirus”)–コ,ロ and ナ– can be combined to form the kanji ideogram for “you”, 君. It’s a sweet, and pretty clever, message for this time when we are huddling and hunkering in our homes. That message is also, for me at least, not naively sentimental or hopeful. It’s not necessarily a “we’re all in this together” cliche, although that is open to interpretation. Instead, it is perhaps saying: “you are affected by this, “you” have a role to play, “you” are responsible too, “you” can also save lives through your actions.
This has always been the case, too, it’s just that I think many of us had forgotten. A much more self-serving “you” was employed before: look what “you” can do for yourself, look how “you” can get ahead, look how you can think of yourself as better than everyone else. There was a lot of inward focus but not of the reflective kind, I think. Not of the kind that really makes you question how you are acting and how those actions influence other people’s lives. Not of the kind that makes you reflect on the technologies and spaces that surround you.
I think a lot of people are starting to feel differently about technology and social media. I certainly do. I don’t feel the same way about using social media as I did before this crisis. It was always a drain and something that I did out of habit. Now I check social media to feel connected, to get some inspiration or hope from other people. It feels like there’s more of a reason and more of a necessity. And it actually feels good now. Not all the time, but more than before. Staff meetings with my colleagues at Nazobako hold a special place for me now, too–as a chance to see my coworkers’ smiling faces. The emotions behind video chats and messaging are being redirected. It’s nice to be reminded that we are still so human, and that at heart, when everything is else is stripped away, we all just want to connect and be together.
Similarly, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated public parks as much as I do now. I would occasionally go to a park to see the sakura bloom or the autumn leaves change. Mostly though, they were nice little places to walk through. Now I love to spend time in the park by my house. And it’s a dinky little thing too, nothing special. I love that there’s a space just to sit and look at trees and smell the air and see other people in real life. It’s interesting too, because it’s not like I am going to go up to strangers and meet new people. But there’s a sense of comfort in simply being around people now, and of hearing other people laugh or talk.
A really fascinating article that tries to imagine how urban design will change after the pandemic is over posits that a newfound respect and desire for open public spaces, like parks, will emerge as a result of the coronavirus. More nature, more togetherness–two things that we realized we needed more than we realized.
There’s kind of a collapse in notions of individuality and collectivity going on. Even as we are driven further and further apart, we are paradoxically being brought together. Even as the virus drives us further from the outside world we feel a greater bond and relationship with it. Coronavirus has indeed formed a new “you” and a new me and a new all of us as well, which is also affecting our relationship to nature, the environment, public space, and technology.
There are ways though, in which this pandemic virus is showing us that not all experiences are the same though, that our supposed collective action is only as strong as the weakest and sickest amongst us. Lower income individuals are being hit much harder, as are those living in poorer countries with less infrastructure and access to health care. Grocery store workers, cashiers, and stockers risk their lives every day. And of course, health care workers put themselves most at risk in order to save lives, many of them without adequate protective gear.
Not every situation is the same, and so a sense of humility, gratitude, and responsibility towards others is called for, not only during the crisis but after it too. How will you help others heal? What lessons will you bring with you back into the world, what thoughts, what reflections? Will you drift back into old ways or will you try to make positive changes after?
This can be a time to leave old truths, old “you”s behind. This can be a time to rethink how “you” fit into the rest of the world, how “you” relate and connect with it. Not in a forced, gospel of productivity way, but naturally and bit by bit. We are all scared individuals, scattered all over, trying to deal with a massive pandemic as best we can. But we are also acting together in so many ways,and for everyone’s benefit. Hopefully this is a good sign of things to come. For those who are home and safe, I hope we can dream of a better world and realize it together when this is done. Find hope and courage in yourselves and in each other.
Stay safe, stay home, stay strong, stay connected.
Lee and the staff at Nazobako/Invite Japan