UC Essay Competition 2020: Read Essay of Second Prize Winner Monica Dimitrova
Read the essay of AUBG student Monica Dimitrova who won second prize in this year's University Council Competition. The topic for 2020 was "How might we use what has been learned from the coronavirus pandemic to advance humanity?"
It is often said that the future is unpredictable. We all know that. We are used to expecting the unexpected, that is how life works. Nevertheless, what hit us at the beginning of 2020 was more than surprising. The already known-to-all group of coronaviruses has been around for a long time. In the past, there have also been signs of such a virus. However, none of them have left such severe consequences as the one that started spreading around the world only at the end of 2019. The disease that this particular virus causes - COVID-19 - turned out to be worse than expected. And not just in one aspect. The spread began in China, went through Europe, Asia, and reached the United States. Countries, where this common enemy occurred, had to take timely action. Just weeks after the government announced the onset of this virus in a particular country, there were already lockdowns, shopping centers were closed, public events were canceled, entertainment stopped. No one was prepared for this, and accordingly, most of the people and companies were hit hard. The situation in the world is changing day by day, and no one knows what will happen next.
When the virus began to spread, people were divided into two groups: those who overreacted and those who thought that all this noise was unnecessary. Or, as the title of one of William Shakespeare's books says, the situation was "Much Ado About Nothing." The first group, however, immediately began to stock up - with disinfectants, with home and food products. And why? Because of fear. People were panicked. Adults recalled scenarios from other epidemics that they had experienced, and for the new generations, to which we also belong, this is the first of that kind. It is like war, but the difference is that all of humanity is on one side. In other words, one may say that it is not a war between people, but rather a war with an invisible enemy that unites people.
A change in people's behavior was necessary. While this definitely slowed the spread of the virus, it inflicted other damage. Of course, everything has its price. In this case, humanity paid at the cost of the economy. A massive drop in employment became apparent. Entire sectors of the market were shut down. People were losing their jobs within a day - without а warning. All this, however, was not a result solely of the government bans. People were scared - they alone decided not to travel, not to eat out - all the things that up until that moment had been part of their regular daily routine and were taken for granted. Hence, as one can imagine, the first sectors to suffer significantly were airlines, the food industry and trade. Unfortunately, the sharp downturn in the economy did not affect all countries equally, let alone all people. For instance, for those people whose family's wellbeing heavily depended on the income from work, this could have been a significant obstacle. Consequently, some people did not have a choice and continued to work, although this involved bringing a large group of people together in one place. Others, whose sectors were closed, had no opportunity to choose and directly remained unemployed. The wealthier countries also had a significant advantage. As they had more money, dealing with the virus and the measures taken could vary in degree and volume. For example, these countries had the opportunity to purchase a greater amount of COVID-19 detection tests and more protective materials - such as masks and suits. Also, the health sector in such countries is more likely to be better developed, which makes the capacity and readiness of hospitals higher.
This whole thing - the coronavirus spreading at incomparable speed, the damage it inflicted on every city which it reached, and the fear of the people - taken together, completely turned the world upside-down. As the virus continued to spread, another "disease" was born in humans, which was no less significant - that was the so-called "F-virus." Namely fear. When one is scared, one cannot reason, acts instinctively, and is guided not by logic, but by one’s feelings at the moment. People believed every word they heard or read - which further aroused fear in society. In general, the overall situation is so incomprehensible and confusing to everyone. To deal with it, we all need to act together. In other words, we need to work as a global community to conquer the global pandemic.
In Chinese, the word "crisis "also means "opportunity." Besides, there is also a proverb that says: "In every crisis there is opportunity." There are no coincidences in life. Everything happens for a reason. Thus, I believe that the fact that the epidemic started in China and the power behind these words of the proverb, both taken together, can only tell us one thing - we need to see the good in the situation, although at first glance, this may seem difficult. As a person who is used to seeing the positive side of life, I can already notice a change in people's attitudes. More and more we are trying to lead a normal life. At least as far as possible - more precisely, we are adapting to the situation and learning to live despite the circumstances.
If we have learned anything from this pandemic - and, of course, will continue to learn - it is, first of all, that we are all equal. This is one of the few cases where color, race and wealth do not matter. There is no black or white, no rich and poor; no one is reinsured. Examples of this are already apparent. Wealthy business people and prime ministers are getting sick, along with more impoverished families and ghetto people. Until now, money has ruled the world. Now, even if you are rich, it does not necessarily guarantee your health. It is undoubtedly helpful, but this causes society to think about rearranging its values, which leads to the next positive thing arising from the pandemic.
We used to live in a fast-paced world. We never stopped. We were in a hurry to work, in a hurry to get home and see our families, in a hurry to save some time for ourselves. We were always rushing not noticing the small details that really matter. We did not stop to reflect and appreciate the essential things in life. It was only when the government banned us from going outside that we began to value freedom. When the cafes and restaurants closed, we realized how precious it was to be able to sit outside with friends. It was only when the whole world was quarantined that we realized that in reality, life is about more than our job, how much money we make or how we dress. Because in the end, it all came down to wearing our comfortable clothes at home and spending time with our loved ones. We also had the opportunity to spend time with ourselves and thus presumably find new interests and hobbies. Like never before, we had the chance to get to know and appreciate what we have - be it the people around us or our way of life.
Furthermore, what makes this pandemic revolutionary is that for the first time, the young people are responsible - they are the ones whose actions significantly determine the development of the situation. We already know that in this case, people more likely to be infected with the virus are the elderly. Although the older ones usually take care of the younger ones, this time, it is the opposite. Young people love the dynamic of life; they like being active, going on walks, seeing their friends. In the particular situation, however, they had to think not only about themselves but also about their loved ones. This was a motive for most of us, youngsters, to stop our usual way of life, to stay home and thus not expose others at risk. All this has taught us to be patient. We had to as we wanted to stop the virus from spreading. We live in an age when many of us lack patience - with the help of technology, we receive information, supplies, and connect with our friends immediately. Thus, we are so used to getting everything instantly.
Another point worth noticing is that people learned to work collectively united by one common goal - or, as some scientists call it - collective intelligence. Humans began working together in search of a cure for the disease. All around the world, specialists were exchanging information, ideas and knowledge. Since all of them had one purpose - to cure society of this evil fate. In like manner, people themselves also started helping each other. For example, going back to money (because they run the world, right?) – wealthy people started donating to hospitals and other charity campaigns. In business, competing companies combined efforts and began to share advice on how to deal with the crisis. Individual problems between people remained in the background when a global problem confronted humanity. Families became closer to one another; children and parents started spending more time together— all things we did not have time for before and didn't pay attention to.
The coronavirus pandemic further serves as an example for us young people of how to deal with unforeseen situations. In such times our generation gains experience on how to manage crisis. We acquire qualities such as flexibility, curiosity and the ability to adapt. All these will form the basis of the future work environment. Right now, we are witnessing that for a person or respectively а company to survive, one should be informed, able to adapt to change, and flexible in one's methods and habits. If, for our ancestors, the World Wars or the Great Depression were decisive for their development, then for us, it will be this pandemic. Our fathers, for example, are still saving money the same way they did during the Great Depression. Not because they do not have, but because they are afraid of falling into the same situation again. That is precisely what we will do. I seriously doubt that one of us, the young people who are experiencing this right now, if one day finds him/herself in a managerial position, will allow his/her company not to be well built with a strong contingency plan. We will have learned the lesson. Mediocrity and inertia have no chance - there should be a strict plan to follow.
When talking about the positive impacts of this pandemic - or the "lessons learned" - one should also take into consideration the at first glance obvious, but no less essential results emerging from the situation. As society was forced to change in a lasting way, the innovations that we were to catch up within few years actually became a reality in 2020.
Firstly, let us look at the "working from home" trend. Branches who have not even considered this way of working before are already making calls through Zoom. Court hearings have shifted online, bank employees make transactions from home through secure systems. All of this happened suddenly and unexpectedly, but it did allow many employees to combine their work with childcare. After the pandemic, working at home will definitely be easier. What is more, some companies are already discussing whether they should return to their offices after the pandemic is over. Of course, there is a reason for that doubt - why invest in such expenses, when the firms could use coworking spaces, for example - it will undoubtedly be better than working from home, although they can obviously handle the latter, too.
Secondly, the decline in travel also had a positive side. On the one hand, it resulted in а reduction of the spread of harmful emissions into the air and, accordingly, a fresher atmosphere. Our change in behavior made us stop polluting the environment. On the other hand, this change was further reflected in less congestion. The so-called "rush hour," which used to anger and cause negative emotions in many people, is gone. Therefore, people who really need to travel can do it more peacefully, without the extra stress and waste of time. An example of a healthy “back to the basics” is the increase of the usage of bicycles in the big cities. While it is a good alternative of the cars for short to medium distance city travel, it also provides a very positive effect for the necessary physical activity.
Thirdly, medicine, especially in the more developed countries, has also undergone a significant improvement. Although most hospitals initially feared whether they could take care of so many patients at one time, governments gradually began to come up with solutions. Initially, the health sector focused entirely on people infected with the coronavirus. Planned operations and medical check-ups were terminated. But slowly, with the help of technology, the latter were resumed. The so-called "telemedicine" was a real revolution in medical care. People now spend less time in waiting rooms, have no contact with others, and all examinations can happen safely from home. Parents can also talk about their children's medical care without going to the doctor's office together.
Last but not least, after this pandemic, we will all have learned to keep better personal hygiene. Good hygiene is an excellent way to prevent any virus - not just the coronavirus. And while we did not pay so much attention to how often we washed our hands and what we touched, now we have definitely learned to do so. If we can take anything from all this, it is that more hand washing, masks and self-isolation for infectious people, when possible, would certainly stop or at least minimize spreading infections.
In conclusion, taking everything into consideration, one can see that even in such seemingly hopeless times, there is still some sort of optimism. When a person finds himself in a similar situation - and it does not matter whether it is a single person, a whole firm or society - early detection and appropriate response are both critical. Transparency and communication further make the process easier since this way, many people can work together to find solutions. Sooner or later, the coronavirus will go away, the economic crisis, too. However, be it for good or for worse, no one will be the same after that. So it is good to slow down, look around and learn the lesson from all that is happening to us. We should get used to see the positive things in life, appreciate what we had before, remind ourselves to be kind to each other, and love and protect the people around us. There is enough negativity in the world. People should also reconsider whether they want to continue the good trend that is currently being set and thus change their behavior. The question is: can we reduce the pace of exhausting the natural resources, stop polluting, and be more responsible for what we will leave for the next generations.
China, where the spread began, already sees reduced infections and is starting to think about how to loosen the measures and open up. It is a fact that other countries are following China's footsteps - we are acting as a global society. As the first country that had to deal with this problem, everyone expects China also to be the first one to show the first steps for recovery. Yet, even when the government loosens restrictions on behavior, not everyone will have the courage to resume his/her previous activities immediately. It requires time that people understand the risks and feel comfortable to go to work or send their children to school. It will be a gradual process. Of course, there will be such people who will immediately rush to cafes, social events and meetings with friends. Others will take it more slowly. Some employers will need time until they get prepared to recall their workers back to work, while others will be impatient to resume their working process. So here comes the role of leaders. Remarkable leadership will stand out - and is here to stay. There is a famous saying that "Great things never come from comfort zones." Greatness needs a bit of solitude - use your time wisely.