The Gifts & Hard Truths of COVID-19

Crisis ≠ Danger

Yong Yang
10 min readApr 18, 2020
Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

The world is witnessing the worst global crisis since WWII. It’s citizens have come to a standstill with nationwide lockdowns everywhere. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has since infected over two million people globally and claimed 170,000 lives. Dow Jones moving south is shaking the future of our economy.

Shaken, we are depressingly negative in our minds. Let us remove our dark glasses and look into the future optimistically. The Chinese word for “crisis” 危机 (wēi jī) consists of two characters. It suggests that this situation has two faces. 危机 signifies a turning point, 机 (jī) pointing to opportunity.

As suggested in the title, COVID-19 pandemic has presented us gifts as well as harsh lessons. Below are some lessons I gleaned from the pandemic.

1. Cherish your life and relationships

I lost two important people when I was 12. Growing up with my grandparents was a time of indelible happy memories. The joy engendered by my grandparents has enabled me to empathise with those who are mourning their loved ones lost to the coronavirus. Many of the dead were buried or cremated in the absence of their loved ones for fear of the virus.

Catch up with a friend you haven’t contacted for a while but have wished to. Pick up your phone and call them now.

If not now, when?

Wait till you bid farewell to them in the caskets?

As the saying goes, absence makes the heart fonder.

It seems harder for people to be more sympathetic towards their living counterparts than their dead “counterparts”.

I would like to entreat everyone not to “ignore” the living so much. Treat the living “like the way we treat the dead”, instead of taking them for granted, and this world, I believe, will be a much better place to live in. Otherwise, it may be better to be dead than alive.

2. Building Good Habits

This pandemic is a timely reminder of the importance of caring for our personal hygiene.

Celebrities and advertisements have gone to air to raise the importance of hand washing and to stay home to stay safe and to keep a distance when waiting in queues. There are still obstinate ones who choose to ignore this message.

Good habits should have been built when we were toddlers.

It is never too late to learn. This lockdown gives us plenty of time to do just that. There are many resources to help you do this. You can start with Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit and other such self-development articles.

3. Prepare for the New World Post COVID-19

Many complain that they can’t do anything or even sustain an activity for long because they lack self-discipline.

You may wonder “What am I going to do within the confines of my home in the next few weeks? Oh yeah, I’m gonna binge watch Netflix shows.”

Has personal development ever come across your mind?

The coronavirus has certainly disrupted our way of life.

Sign up for online courses on Coursera, edX, Udemy and Open Courseware now. Keep yourself abreast of the skills required to stay relevant in the future economy. Post coronavirus pandemic there will be changes to the way we live our lives. Certain sectors of the economy will thrive; there will be sectors that may not survive. Millions will lag behind as the coronavirus disruption worsens the already rising inequality.

It is a remarkable turnaround in our lives and future.

Now take the bull by the horns and upskill, train and retrain yourself.

If you’re student stuck at home, read widely and think and write critically. This would improve your presentation at meetings. If you’re an adult working from home, upskill. Learning a new hobby or some new exercises is good not only for your physical health but it is also great for your mental health. Simple exercises that could be done in a small space, whether it be yoga, taichi or whatever, releases endorphins or happy hormones vital to overcome pain and stress.

4. What will the Economy look like when we bid farewell to this Virus

Top White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow’s suggestion of providing incentives for US companies in China to return to the U.S. surprised staunch supporters of globalisation. So did Japan’s multi-billion-dollar coronavirus shakeout. Global production chains will undergo restructuring. Companies, large or small, will now consider diversifying their operations globally.

While relocating manufacturing from China back to the USA has the potential to create more jobs, high costs of labour, workers’ rights and change in work culture need to be considered before making the decision.

Shifting operations to Southeast Asia requires the workforce to be equipped with the necessary skills. Infrastructure is another prerequisite. Politics, work culture and the like may have to be taken into account.

Echoes of whether its opening up and reforms over the last four decades would continue to be a success are heard across the nation. The keen observers of its economic development should know that its manufacturing has been upgrading from low-end to high-end. Automation is also gaining ground around the world reducing the need for human labour. Are the American policymakers trying to curb the inevitable rise of artificial intelligence?

Globalisation is unlikely to come to a complete halt as most countries still perceive multilateral cooperation to be propitious.

That said, political leaders and economists should rethink the present global economic order, or perhaps consider diversification of production as an alternative to survive during crises and thrive during economic boom. Specialisation in international trade will soon root itself in the past, nations should seek to improve their competence in different areas of production. For example, the U.S. could continue producing human and physical capital goods while producing a certain amount of labour-intensive goods.

The world is filled with possibilities — one-way thinking is not the only way.

5. Live in the Present

The world we live in now seems alien as compared to that months ago. Almost everything has changed as the COVID-19 situation evolves rapidly. Global supply chains upended, relationships and working styles are not the same as before.

Some academics might have been fearful of a WWIII when Trump challenged Iran to a showdown. It did not happen, thank God. Instead a microbe, invisible to the eye, has declared its power to wipe out our entire civilisation.

It is time, which we have plenty of now, to reflect on Life itself as the sage of yester-times, Lao Tzu said:

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Live your life at a simple level. Want less. Mindfulness leads us to even need less. Try Meditation. Many have observed that our rivers are cleaner; the air purer; the sky clearer / It was the hurry, the worry and the stress that led us to almost destroy our Mother Earth.

Don’t live in the past nor the future. Never worry about problem that is not bothering you now. They will arrive when time is ripe unless you want to invite them to make your life more miserable.

Anxiety is diametrically unnecessary. A wise man once told me this:

Do what you feel anxious about when you experience anxiety.

Currently, you’re uncertain whether you’ll be employed if you get fired. Build your CV and acquire new skills that make you stand out from the crowd. You might even become the Most Valuable Employee (MVE) in the future.

Simply immerse yourself in the present moment.

6. Frugality

Coronavirus spreading across the globe is as good as sweeping away our money.

Singapore is fortunate that its financial prudence saved its people with a drawdown from the national reserves of S$21 billion (US$14.5 billion).

Preparing for the unexpected is invariably the only solution to all dangers.

As consumers, we also need to ask ourselves whether we should do the same to stay afloat. Millions of people are confronted with profound difficulties and have to make tough choices like determining which bills they should pay off first and which they should temporarily put off. If we’ve been very careful with our spending, the issues can be resolved easily.

In 1726, Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, spelled it out in his Thirteen Virtues:

Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

We shall ensure that this attitude, developed by a great man who co-founded the world’s melting pot half a century later, is deeply ingrained in us.

Here are some tips to achieve it:

  • Simplify, so we can concentrate on the necessities, whether in life, travel or material assets.
  • Splurge and save, which means we could still spend on quality items or pleasures, while setting aside our hard-earned cash to cover our daily expenses.
  • Shop smart, so we have more space everywhere, whether it’s the closet or the cluttered mind. We want our souls to be liberated in this solemn time, and beyond.

7. Successful Societies

Every crisis is a challenge to the existing systems and beliefs. Those come out of crises stronger are still relevant to the world today. Conversely, those deemed to survive but failed shall mark their own demise.

Societal resilience is playing an instrumental role in determining our success in defeating the coronavirus. It is the citadel built over the years and will stand the acid test of its intruders.

In an interview with CNBC on March 11, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan posited that the global pandemic is testing “every single country’s quality of healthcare, standard of governance and social capital” telling us that no one is fortunate enough to run away from it. “If any one of this tripod is weak, it will be exposed, it will be exposed, and exposed quite unmercifully by this epidemic,” he warned.

Corrupted, incompetent and dishonest? You will be voted out by your fellow citizens at the ballot box. Handling the situation professionally garners respect and builds trust with the people. Should a much-vaunted world-class healthcare system revealed to be flawed, covetous countries hoping for your downfall are ready, together with their popcorns, to watch mayhem breaking out.

The crucial, if not the most critical, element in combating any war is social unity.

Hard-hit by months of protests, it was widely believed that the Pearl of the Orient’s fragmented society could not heal itself as the coronavirus permeated the city. Notwithstanding, it’s been touted as one of the most successful in containing the spread of virus. Perhaps Hong Kongers’ horrible memories of SARS have shoved them into rising up to the viruses together by being socially responsible such as wearing their masks and practising safe-distancing measures.

It is at the society’s peril to flout the precautionary measures in fighting against the novel coronavirus.

8. Freedom Isn’t Unlimited

China still earns much flak from Western liberal democracies for its draconian measures even though it emerged victorious in the “people’s battle” against the virus.

However, according to many international experts, the measures Beijing implemented to contain the virus worked. “China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic,” says a report written by World Health Organisation (WHO) health experts who travelled to the epicentre of the outbreak to study the coronavirus response.

Liberal democrats criticised the socialist state’s measures to enforce its lockdown as violating human rights citing some residents of affected regions were unable to purchase the essentials and obtain medical care.

The Chinese Central Government’s decision could be explained with reference to opportunity cost in microeconomics. The term refers to the next best alternative forgone as a result of making a decision. The authorities knew how dire the situation in the mainland would get when the virus is spread to other provinces if swift action like locking down the entire Hubei province has not been taken. Sacrificing Hubei people’s freedom temporarily has a much lower opportunity cost than imperilling millions of Chinese’s lives. They decided to take up the gauntlet and proved that they were right.

Would other countries have taken the similar approach had China not put its people on lockdown?

Sweden’s softer approach to containing the new coronavirus was already an outlier in Europe and is coming under fire as death tolls continue to rise faster than its Nordic neighbours.

Centuries ago, great philosophers ennobled us with the notion about freedom being essential. Now, it seems too high for us to reach with a precarious ladder. More will join us to build a more secure one to seize it as more lives are saved.

Maybe Hobbes was right to say that life of a man would be “nasty, brutish, and short” if he is not subject to law and power.

9. Grow up, Homo Sapiens!

Most of us have never expected the coronavirus to pervade Europe and America. Yet, few have the humility to acknowledge their gravest blunder — complacency.

A squabble between the most powerful nations on Earth revealed that they may have forgotten the responsibilities they are shouldering while global leadership was at stake. Maybe you know the saying, “When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”

We need to play less blame game and be level-headed.

Critics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may be right to claim that the latter’s coronavirus mission to Italy was purely a geopolitical move or waging information warfare. Nonetheless, some aid is better than no aid at all.

The European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen has warned of “crucial equipment stuck in bottlenecks at borders for days” following EU member states’ decision to tighten up export controls on essential medical supplies instead of working together to fight a common enemy. This pandemic is apt for the EU’s internal market model to prove its detractors that it is indeed beneficial to them.

The respiratory pathogen also recognises no passport nor skin colour.

Renaming the virus to the “Chinese virus” does not inoculate you against it.

If it were a “Chinese virus”, why would it kill people of other races and ethnicities?

Collaboration and cooperation will be defining the world order and are the only way to survive and thrive. We shall all be collegial in nature and shape mankind’s shared future.

Homo sapiens evolved to possess a hubristic belief that they are indomitable. They must cognise that their invincibility is ascribed to their vulnerability thrusting them into cooperation.

We have a choice. United we survive; Divided we perish.

Jack Ma said:

Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.

Humanity has always been confronted with challenges to check our solidarity and resilience. We will eventually triumph over the coronavirus if we believe that hope is our source of strength. Stormy seas are only the prelude to a cloudless blue sky for better navigation.

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