“The crisis is a tough time to think through all the
pieces that are necessary.” That was an intriguing point by Bill Gates in his
recent interview with Ezra Klein. It is a point that is too significant to escape
the nose of a sober philosopher or the minds of persons who may be concerned
about mental health or how to think in such a tough time. To contextualise Bill
Gates’ statement here we may shorten it as “[it] is a tough time to think…”
Our major question is ‘how can or should we think when it
is a tough time to think?’
There are other questions we may need to consider before
we could derive an answer to our major question. Such questions include:
- Why is it a tough time to think?
- How is it a tough time to think?
Bill Gates’ statement already answers the first question
saying that there is a crisis that makes it tough to think. Almost everyone
knows that something is wrong in the world at the moment. It is most likely
that even babies in wombs could sense that a virus is currently wreaking severe
havoc in the world that will soon host them. COVID-19 is making it a tough time
Now that we know why it is a tough time to think we are left with the second question: How is it a tough time to think? This may not be straightforward to people who rightly think that the virus is not an infection of the brain or the nervous system, but rather an infection of the lungs. If it is not affecting the nervous system, so how does it affect thinking?
A recent article “Knowledge as the Working and Walking
Narrative”, mentions that there are two basic processes of knowing which are
called the Dual Carriageway of Knowing. On one way, the mind
is working towards reality, the individual is directing
herself (maybe by thinking) to acquire certain knowledge. On the other way, the
reality is walking towards the mind, knowledge is entering
the individual’s mind without the individual trying to acquire the knowledge.
The individual is often in control of the former and the latter is often beyond
the control of the individual. So how is this relevant?
During this challenging period, while we are trying to think about particular things and direct our minds to know somethings, our thoughts could be overwhelmed by the realities that flood our minds. It is almost impossible now for a day to go without news about Coronavirus. It is presently an overwhelming reality of everyday life and it creates a difficulty to concentrate on other things that we try to know. Social media and various outlets consistently flood our minds with the realities of COVID-19 even beyond what we would want to know. At the introductory phase of the virus, there were different descriptions from political leaders. For example, the President of China (Xi Jinping) calls the virus a “pneumonia epidemic”. The President of France (Emmanuel Macron) calls it “the invisible, elusive and advancing enemy”. The Prime Minister of Russia (Vladimir Putin) calls the virus a “common threat”. The (lucky) Prime Minister of the UK (Boris Johnson) calls it an “invisible killer” while the President of the US (Donald Trump) calls it “the Chinese virus”. These descriptions are followed by different statistics of deaths, of infections, disparities in infections and survival rates among other things. When these unavoidable torrents of information flood our minds, it is so difficult to concentrate on other aspects of life. It is indeed a tough time to think. Now, what can man do when it is tough to think?
It is not an option for a man to stop thinking because, as Michel Foucault puts it, “man is a thinking being”. Though it is tough to think, human beings must think. It is, however, important to be more thoughtful about thinking whenever it is tough to think because thinking often has a boomeranging effect. A religious personality once mentioned that “Man is a thinking being: what and how we think largely determines what we are and what we will become.” But our thinking will not only affect us as individuals; it also affects people around, specifically how we relate with them. So how can we be ‘thoughtful’ with our thinking when it is tough to think but we must think?
In 1637 the French philosopher René Descartes came up with Cogito ergo sum to argue for the attainment of certain knowledge. Cogito ergo sum means ‘I think therefore I am’. Bringing this Cartesian statement to context here, we may say that we can have a thoughtful approach to our thinking in tough times by starting the thinking with ourselves. We should make the ‘I’ come before the ‘think’. If we cannot avoid the influx of thoughts on Coronavirus, then we should personalise the thoughts. Let the thinking about Coronavirus starts with you:
What are the significances of the various thoughts on
coronavirus for you as a person?
What are you identifying or knowing about yourself during
the phase(s) of the virus?
Who do you think you are in the context of the
And what is the significance of who you are on others
This is not a call for some irrational solipsism or
untamed anthropocentrism. It is rather a call for a sincere self-examination.
Despite all misgivings, the virus has presented humanity with a sober mirror to
re-evaluate itself. Taking time before that mirror and painstakingly examining
who we are individually is the best way to think now when it is difficult to
think. Socrates rightly advised that “Man [and woman] know thyself. An
unexamined life is not worth living.” Perhaps it is an advantage that the virus
is offering us all the lockdown so we can pause and examine ourselves before we
continue with the next phases of our lives. An example in this blog is the
interesting article [https://blogs.qub.ac.uk/happ/2020/05/11/just-some-lockdown-thoughts/] by Rachel Thompson about how she recognised how less
grateful she was for some benefits that she now realised that she is having. We
should all take that bold stance to put up ourselves before the sober mirror of
COVID-19 and check out who we really are, particularly in relations to others.
Many of us typically create a mental identity of being busy, we barely spend minutes with our families. We are now realising that we have only been using the workplace as an escape from the challenges at home. During the lockdown, we are now caught up with disagreements, misunderstandings and disputes that we have failed to address and have used our works as an excuse to avoid. Some of us believe that we are self-sufficient. We act, speak and think like we are the only ones existing in the world. We never believe we would need anyone in our lives but now we seek to communicate with people although virtually and we desire a reciprocal reaction from everyone. We are beginning to see that no one is an island, we are all social beings very much in need of ourselves. Some of us have enjoyed a lifestyle of discrimination, whether it is age, class, gender, language, race or what have you. We look down on certain people and implicitly or explicitly consider them as underprivileged. We think we are rich whereas health (not money) is the real wealth! We smile at peoples’ shabby dresses and feel satisfied that such people have already lost any competition with us for a good life. But who says life is a competition where the downfall of one is essential for the success of the other? Now the whole world is in a classroom, nature sombrely walked in as the teacher and slowly wrote the course title on the board: “COVID-19”. One of the learning outcomes is “That human beings will know that whether they are black, brown, yellow or white, they are all bloody humans. The only possible difference is that they can either be bad or good.”
Many of us are keen to have many things for ourselves
notwithstanding if we need them or even to the detriment of those in dire need.
Others consider us as greedy but it sounds derogatory and unacceptable to us.
However, now we are learning that many of those things that we struggle to
acquire are mere wants and not needs. Now that we can only pick three things
per item at the stores and we still survive till another opportunity to leave
the queue and enter the grocery stores; we are beginning to see that we have
often used our wants to starve others of their needs. We now understand that
what we really need in life is our health and the struggle to acquire more than
needed is unhealthy. Now we agree with Immanuel Kant that, “we are not rich by
what we possess but by what we can do without.”
There are some of us in positions of ‘power’ to make
decisions about the success or failure of some persons under us. We forget that
we are not the first and we will not be the last persons to occupy such a
position. We happily, though surreptitiously, victimise or oppress those under
us, we believe that it is the way to command respect. That is the way to show
we are the boss. We sometimes boast that the promotion or success of certain
persons is over our dead body. That is, as long as we are alive, such persons
cannot have a promotion or some benefits that they deserve. Fortunately, we are
now learning that the same air that keeps the victim alive also keeps the
victimizer alive. And that a change can happen by tiny challenges in the puff
of air we take in or out. We are all at the mercy of something above and beyond
every one of us.
While we have been busy looking at our differences,
nature is seeing us as one. Life, at least on earth, is similar for everybody.
It is simply a journey from the womb to the tomb or from birth to death. We are
part of each other and the best we can be is not about the best we can achieve
but the best we can give to ourselves. There is a commonness in the humanness
of our humanity which evolution may never be able to explain. We hear about
death rates and we feel sorry even though it may be unlikely for us to be
directly affected. But the empathy we show is a tacit admittance of the reality
that anyone that goes out of existence is part of humanity, part of ourselves.
And it is a sign that we too will go someday even if we become another
The COVID-19 period is like humanity is crawling through
a dark long tunnel and unfortunately, many persons will not see the end of the
tunnel. But it is not just about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It
is about what you would look like when you get to the end of the tunnel. At the
moment, humanity is acknowledging its frailty and there are many things that we
cannot change. It is probably unhelpful to dwell much on what we cannot change
at the expense of what we can and, even, ought to change. Take a bold step to
assess yourself in the sober mirror and change what you ought to change while
you still have the time. I will start to conclude with some apt lines by Shawn
Carter (Jay-Z), in the song ‘Forever Young’: “So we live life like a video…when
the [D]irector yells cut, I’ll be fine…” That you will be fine when the
Director yells cut depends on you to now start thinking about yourself: Take a
careful and reflective look at yourself in the mirror of life. Perhaps it is
time to admit like Thomas Nashe (of blessed memory) that “Heaven is our
heritage, Earth but a player’s stage” and agree with James Shirley that “Only
the actions of the just, Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.”
Now that it is tough to think let the thinking starts