“Consider it the greatest sacrilege … to lose for the sake of life the reasons for which it is worth living.”
Because of the Corona pandemic, we are experiencing many limitations. Currently, are the reasons worth living for sufficiently considered? Or is survival more important? In other words, are we “sacrificing” at the moment?
The Corona crisis has disrupted all of our lives: it has shattered our plans, restricted us, destroyed everyday routines, rendered old thought patterns useless, and made us aware of our vulnerability. And made life much more difficult: all the things we used to look forward to, that made life fun and interesting, that took us out of the monotonous reality of everyday life for a brief moment – a relaxing vacation, a trip to an unknown place, drinking with friends, dancing, laughing until we drop – these magical moments, experiences and memories that once gave our lives meaning have disappeared.
It’s as if someone turned off the colors on the TV and all we see is gray. Without the things that make every day special, that let us escape and allow us to enjoy life even when it gets difficult, without these things life becomes depressing and boring. For humans, this is not a life worth living, so why do we allow this to happen? We can easily bring all these things back and return to “normality”, so why don’t we do that?
The pandemic has presented us with some difficult ethical choices. Health or freedom? The greatest good of the greatest number or the rights of the individual? Those who argue for freedom, for example, must accept that if they ignore masks and social distancing, they will limit the freedom of the vulnerable, while those who appeal to health must realize that without some relief to the economy, there will be no money for care. Nonetheless, the dilemmas are often real, and they are underpinned, at least in part, by the toughest decision of all, and one of the least discussed. When a pandemic strikes, should our overriding goal be to protect lives or quality of life?
Despite the severe restrictions that the vast majority of us have accepted this year to protect life, I think most of us would say that our overriding goal is quality of life. If a government said to us, “Stay locked in your house forever; we will bring food, clothing, and other necessities of life to your door, and you will never get so much as a cold again, let alone Covid-19,” I don’t think many of us would accept that. We don’t just want life, we want a life worth living.
But focusing on thriving doesn’t have to mean selfishness. To me, “thriving” means realizing various forms of potential-intellectual, emotional, imaginative, and physical, all of which are equally important. But critically, it also includes the practice of caring and compassion, which are necessary for individual or community flourishing. Making quality of life, not just life, the ultimate goal does not mean letting the virus rage unchecked through society. People cannot thrive if they are dead. But it does mean that we can’t continue to go through life blindly, from one day to the next. We have to start asking ourselves the hard questions. Questions push to the surface that otherwise get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life or are easily pushed away: Am I even doing the right thing? What is worth living for? In general: What is the meaning of life? To be honest with ourselves and to answer these questions for ourselves, to appreciate life, even in the moments when it becomes difficult. This is the way out of the misery we are experiencing and a way out of our iniquity.