Articles

The Pandemic: Disaster or Opportunity?

Aug 28, 2020

Global Governance to Meet Global Challenges (#4)

by Sovaida Ma’ani Ewing

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt of an article originally posted on Sovaida’s Blog on Saturday, February 29, 2020. See also Sovaida’s April 2020 web talk on YouTube: The Coronavirus Pandemic: Stepping Stone, or Stumbling Block?

Over the past year there has been no shortage of looming disasters that pose a serious threat to humanity including uncontrollable wild fires and forest fires precipitated by climate change, and the dangers of an accidental plunge into nuclear war as a result of miscalculation and brinksmanship. The recent outbreak of a novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is now likely to become the pandemic that we have been fearing for some time. While the threat to human life is engendering fear and anxiety, knock-on impacts to the global economy are likely to be just as severe.

It is no wonder that our typical response is either to feel fearful, helpless, apathetic, and sink into despair or to feel angry, frustrated, and quick to blame someone else — the people of some other country, health officials, or even our neighbors and friends who unwittingly carry the infection and expose the rest of us to it. While such reactions are understandable given the level of risk associated with the spread of the coranavirus, and the many uncertainties that accompany its spread, in reality both reactions are destructive and do not serve us. Moreoever, when we feel helpless or angry and blame others, our perceptions of the options available to us tend to be blinkered. When we need to be most creative and energetic in crafting constructive responses and solutions, we become apathetic, depressed, and anxious. We also become more prone to a fight-or-flight response and to conflict with others. All of these emotions ultimately lead either to inaction, delayed or half-baked action with too little done, too late, or to endless blame-games that, in the end, also do not help us meet the challenges at hand.

What if instead of viewing these same events, including the spreading coronavirus, as looming disasters, we were to view them as a supreme opportunity for humanity to finally learn to communicate in a spirit of goodwill and transparency, and to cooperate and collaborate on finding workable solutions that benefit us all? What if instead of viewing other nations and their actions as enemies and threats, we viewed them as indispensable and valuable allies with whom to join forces in the fight against a global threat? Commentators like David Ignatius of the Washington Post and experts like the editors of Nature Medicine are starting to suggest that the coronavirus presents us with a unique opportunity to do just this. For this to happen we need to change our perspective on social reality from seeing disparate nations each concerned exclusively and foremost with its own well-being to seeing a single global organism, a single global community that is interconnected in much the same way that the limbs and organs of the human body are connected.

Just as it would be nonsensical and futile for the liver to claim that it was not concerned about the health of the kidneys because it was focused first and foremost upon its own well-being, and just as the heart could never be truly healthy in a body where the lungs were riddled with disease, so, too, is it nonsensical and futile for individual countries and social groups to claim and act solely or even primarily without regard for the consequences and benefits to other countries and groups. What if we understood that the only way to guarantee the well-being and health of any one of our nations requires ensuring the well-being of all nations? Such a shift in perspective would reveal new ways of organizing our global community, of decision-making and behavior that open up new and effective pathways to addressing the seemingly intractable challenges of our time.  

Such a shift in perspective requires both awareness and acceptance of the reality of our unprecedented interconnectedness as a global community of nations and of the imperative to act together collaboratively in order to solve collective challenges. It also requires us to acknowledge that we have the power to make different, more empowering choices.


Link to first article in this series.

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Sovaida Ma'ani Ewing, LLM

Director, Center for Peace and Global Governance (CPGG)

My passion for correlating the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith with the urgent needs of our planet was born when, as a teenager, I first came across this quote by Bahá’u’lláh: “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” I was so inspired by it that I decided to adopt the quote as the guiding principle of my life. Thus began a wondrous journey of simultaneously educating myself about the global challenges of our times and the guidance offered in the Bahá’í Writings. My purpose through these intervening years has been to find practical ways of applying the vision and framework offered by the Baha’i Writings to solving our global challenges including climate change, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, migration, financial crises, and genocide to name but a few. As a result of intensive research, I have developed a methodology grounded in the Bahá’í Writings of proposing a set of shared global ethics that nations can agree upon and demonstrating how we can apply them methodically to find practical and politically palatable solutions to our global problems. My work has further explored the next steps we can take to build collective decision-making and enforcement institutions as we work to create a new system of global governance along the lines envisioned by Bahá’u’lláh. These institutions are designed to be fit for the 21st century and beyond, and must be grounded in the system of shared global ethics that we agree upon. My work over the years has resulted in the publication of four books in the area of global governance and invitations to speak to audiences around the world with an increasing focus on university students. I have also developed and offered 5-day courses to equip university students and young adults with the mindset and tools to tackle our pressing global crises. In addition to my blog, I am currently developing a series of videos which I hope to have available on my website (www.cpgg.org) by the end of this year (2019). I have coached and mentored many students; engaging in meaningful dialogues with them has been the highlight of my work. While they are bright and engaged and completely vested in solving the looming global challenges they will inherit, they are not yet tainted with the cynicism and apathy that seems to have overtaken my generation. The future of our world will be determined by who they become and what they choose to do. Listen to Sovaida’s interview with Rainn Wilson on ‘Bahá’í Blogcast' Listen to Sovaida’s interview on ‘A Bahá’í Perspective’ podcastSee Faculty Bio

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