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OPINION: Globalizing compassion amidst COVID-19

Friday, 27 March 2020 17:39 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Compassion goes beyond just sympathy or empathy, it is a strong feeling for the suffering of others as your own and a deep desire to end it

By Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan

Coronavirus has forced us to live a life that most of us have never experienced before with almost one fourth of the world’s population on lockdown.

 A cloud of uncertainty has descended upon us all, leading to fear. The global economy has gone into a tailspin. No matter what part of the world we live in, no matter what our nationalities, color, religion, culture, socio-economic status, we are all facing the same crisis to varying degrees all at the same time. Our common fear can also become a source of courage, resilience and hope.

The current epidemic is forcing us to acknowledge that we are a world of common problems and solutions. Crises and disasters evoke a sentiment of kindness and giving that manifests in charity and philanthropy to those in despair. Of course, this is much needed, but it tends to only last as long as the crisis and disaster remain in the news. These are acts of sympathy - when you feel the suffering of others or, empathy- when you feel the suffering of others as your own.

Today I saw an ordinary couple and their children cooking. Then the man with his mask on left to distribute the food to the homeless twice in the day. Millions of healthcare givers are risking their lives round the clock. This gives me hope!

Sustainable solution lies in igniting and globalizing compassion. Compassion goes beyond just sympathy or empathy. It is a strong feeling for the suffering of others as your own, along with a deep desire to take action to end it.

This present crisis is an opportunity to reinvigorate our inner power of compassion and enlarge its circle to every known and unknown being. It is not just the virus that is infectious, compassion too can be contagious!

As we are asked to self-isolate and feel frustrated we must ask, what about those children who have no home to self-isolate in? While we panic about how we can fill our fridges, what about the families with no fridge at all? While we worry about our jobs, what about the people who only eat when they earn money that day?

Decisions made by our leaders, actions taken by us and the discourses that ensue in the next few weeks will be crucial. They are going to shape the future of polity, economy, culture and morality. Development priorities will be recalibrated, individual freedom, privacy and human rights will be redefined. Conventional politics can also be transformed into compassionate politics.

In the last two weeks, policy makers have already released over three trillion USD in emergency support for the companies and people in the richest countries. That funding is needed and is important, but we also need to see the governments of the world come together and announce a rescue package for the most marginalized children – even if 20% of this support was targeted at the poorest people and families in the world it would save millions and millions of lives.  We are seeing debt assistance for some of the richest companies in the world, but what about the debt of the poorest countries who desperately need funds to fight this crisis! Cancelling the debt of the poorest countries would make all of humanity safer.

The truth is and always has been that we are all dependent on each other. The richest businessman is dependent on the poorest cleaner to keep him safe. Coronavirus is a stark reminder that the health of humanity is dependent on how well we can create healthcare systems for all our citizens. Our future, your children’s future will be best if we can show compassion to all in these scary and uncertain times. Whether it is marginalized people in your community or around the world, reach out with compassion and take action today, tomorrow and every day.

If we can find compassion in our hearts, from the tragedy of the COVID 19 pandemic we can act to help all of humanity and develop a more just and safer future for all.

We humans are destined to live together. How we choose to live together, is up to us!