The New Abnormality: Learning in the Social
Dr. Juan José López Jiménez
Cáritas España Servicios Centrales
CLIP y Corintios, comunidades cristianas
The social situation generated by the pandemic and the quarantine measures allow for the development of new perspectives that may open up the possibility of a new social structure, a new society, a humanity that learns with a long and wide view. Many perceives that we want to go beyond the immediate events, and like the two rails on which is set this convoy called humanity, what is urgent and what is important can be aligned in parallel to guide the train towards a new horizon of abnormality.
We are in a dilemma, a crucial turning point, a Gordian knot that has put us on the front to choose whether the social consequences will be the same as always – more catastrophic if possible (increased unemployment, inequality, social isolation) – or whether we will be able to build a new situation far from the known norm, different from the derailment we have been dragging along for decades. Normality” shows the neglect of many essential things. The perversion will be to consider “normal” the unnatural things we have been doing against nature and against the harmonious coexistence among us. The post-coronavirus crisis reveals what was already happening and accentuates its intensity. What are these essential questions – the Little Prince would say – that are visible to our eyes today? Our real needs as humanity? What are the lessons that this global pandemic situation gives us?
The first lesson is the awareness that we are all equal in the face of such a global catastrophe. The virus does not differentiate borders, religions, races, or economic resources. What divides us loses its meaning, and the common vulnerability of human beings becomes evident and powerful at the same time. However, like many disasters, it does not affect us equally. It is based on the weakest, the most vulnerable, the impoverished and the excluded. Like many people who have had the opportunity to travel to Africa, I have been able to live in a world that is as different as it is revealing. When I got there, the enormous global social fracture runs through the pores of my skin, the absence of Western security exposed my vulnerability, and this way of life that seeks sustenance every day makes me feel how far we are from a common humanity in the face of so much inequality. With the passage of time and active listening, a reservoir of tranquility and perspective is created, to let go without fear of what happens. When I return from these trips, I find strange the world in which I live and its apparent solidity based on the exploitation of millions of people. I prefer solidarity and equality – even at the cost of my goods and “securities” – to that false inequality that dehumanizes me. I feel ashamed and frustrated, but I am confident in the possibility of a civilization of love that looks out with compassion, tenderness, and solidarity for the most disadvantaged.
The second lesson is our need for interdependence to cope with global contingencies that affect us locally. The term “glocal” explains well this dynamic that shows the social wound of the social dissociation for which they want to program us. Recognizing this interdependence from vulnerability could be a starting point to pay a significant change in our way of understanding life. What is the substrate that remains in our construction of the social? the service to an economy that enriches a few? the false security? the mantra of the isolated individual over the collective relationship? Individual freedom makes sense if it is exercised for the common good and without harming anyone. There lies its exercise as a right. Otherwise, as with the person who smokes, his or her smoke can seriously damage our health.
COVI19 has been called the virus of loneliness because what it causes is extreme isolation from quarantine to illness or death. All deaths concern me, those of the virus, those of forgotten wars, and those of immigrants in the Mediterranean. I realize that I cannot live in solitude, that the praise of the individual does not remain, that it is a mere mirage, a crumbling house of cards. I have fear and anxiety, but I have hope in human beings, in their capacity to rise from their ashes like the phoenix. I prefer to share, to live compartmentalized and isolated.
A third lesson, related to the previous one, is the importance of a common area that truly guarantees the coverage of the most significant contingencies for human life. Before a thought that “as much as you have, so worth you are”, or that “you can save yourself if you have material and economic resources”; the coronavirus puts in check those weak securities and demonstrates -from its smallness-, once more, that human fragility can be sustained in the field of common flexibility, while individual rigidity leaves us alone and separate us as humanity. Hence, the public acquires greater relevance and meaning in the construction of the social, as opposed to the private. The public reveals itself as the true guarantor of the rights of all by making available the common resources, the universal destination of goods. We should hope that this lesson, learned from trust in public systems such as our health system, Social Security or education, can be extended to other systems where solidarity and distribution are the guides for the best protection of all, as opposed to the greater protection of a few from the private resources of those who have them. It means accepting with confidence that vulnerability is asymmetrical and that protection from this contingency is also asymmetrical. If vulnerability grows, we are all at risk. I prefer to trust in the common life, in a shared vulnerability, than to consider the privacy of my assets above the lives of people. My mind rebels at resisting this detachment, and I am afraid of being left behind. My heart, however, is an ally of that trust in the common human being.
The fourth lesson has to do with the consideration that our lifestyle is not immutable. The history of mankind is full of examples where the moral decadence of great civilizations marked the beginning of their own end. We are becoming aware of superfluous human activities, of mere entertainment – the “circus” of distraction where it is better not to feel, not to think -, or informative activities that leave us exhausted by their monotony and superficiality. Will we change by necessity or by virtue? We are now more concerned with the risk of loss than with the need to win. We realize that in the face of excessive ambition, it is possible to accept a dignified life for all, an experience of fraternity that is unprecedented and viable. Following Pope Francis: “Let us not be afraid to live the alternative of the civilization of love of hope against anguish and fear, sadness and discouragement, passivity and tiredness”.
The value of the family and the care society is revealed as a fifth lesson. We had lived – and it was constant – in the past economic crisis, that the main bastion that sustained society was the family. With confinement, we live in a home where the public and the private, the work, and the family space, are con-fused. On the other hand, it is about creating the loom where we weave the care, the frame of the protection spaces, and the warp of practices that cultivate the accompaniment, the love, the empathy, the compassion, the meeting, the mutual help, etc. In this situation of quarantine, a human activity has proliferated that is as simple as it is transformative: listening -the effective gives way to the affective-; and simple, close, neighborhood movements change the social landscape. The pandemic puts before us simple questions. In the words of Dolores Aleixandre, “to go out into the street without fear, to walk freely, to shake hands, to embrace someone, to feel the warmth of the closeness of those we love, to look directly into each other’s eyes, to meet with friends for a drink”. All of this carries the seed of community, although it runs the risk of becoming a mere act of necessity and losing sight of the virtue of a major change in humanity. Psychologists speak to us of the development of the massive diffusion of emotions such as fear, anger, solidarity (attachment-care), sadness, desire, inquiry (we are half scientific), joy (applause), aggressiveness (judgment of one’s neighbor, vigilance), capacity for adaptation or resilience, etc. Are these emotions binding or nonbinding? Is it a mirage? I feel uncertain whether we are truly opening the door to develop as a welcoming community, or whether it is just another manifestation of our purest individualism.
Finally, this situation has shown that the greatest enemy is our greatest friend, nature itself. Here, we see ourselves naked in our “creaturity” (Imanol Zubero), we are not gods, but a part of this world. If we stop, the air becomes clear, and our eyes contemplate in fascination with the greenery and the buds of a thriving spring where Life is savored. We also become aware of death, which is part of life, we welcome our destiny with naturalness and serenity, breathing its lights, and its shadows.
The question is whether this increase in awareness, of living in “the society of risk” (Ulrich Beck), of human fragility, will mean more fear, more inequality, and stigmatization of what is different, or whether we will accept this human condition – as light likewise as dark -, revealing our capacity to choose towards a common future. The threats that are coming to us are increasingly global, and the social structure on a global scale is a dehumanizing mosaic that shames me. Take, for example, an African country like Senegal, scourged by the slave trade for centuries, whose inhabitants have upheld the word “teranga” as the motto of their people which, in their Wolof language, means welcome. The paradox of welcoming south as opposed to a north that takes – exploits and mercilessly pillage everything it can without scruples – reveals of where some of the pearls of humanity are to be found. I want to navigate in this fluid, a simple and humanizing current that has a more global, integral, and nourishing vision for our individual and collective growth.
Dr. Juan José López Jiménez
Social Researcher, Gestalt Art Therapist, Geographer,
Caritas Agent Central Headquarters
It belongs to CLIP and Corinthians, Christian communities