UC Essay Competition 2020: Read Essay of Third Prize Winner Natalia Chicu
Read the essay of Natalia Chicu ('20) who won third 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?"
Human kind is now facing a global crisis, perhaps one of the biggest crises in our generation. The coronavirus pandemic has spread both disease and fear all over the world. It shapes the society against a virus which made an enormous damage to health, wealth, and people’s well-being. The situation we are facing today is exceptional, we are all trying to find a solution and develop tools to fight the pandemic. Global innovation is a key to limiting damage and overcoming this pandemic, including the development of vaccines, tests, treatments, and policies developed by officials that can restrict the spread of the virus. However, this pandemic showed us that despite of the global innovation, technology, and advanced medicine, not a single country is fully-prepared for it. Apparently, the only solution to be working so far is the simplest, yet most efficient - social distancing.
Today, the risks of doing nothing can become fatal. Social distancing emerged once everybody started to work from home and communicate at a distance, when the entire schools went online to study and when face-to-face meetings are replaced with Zoom or Skype meetings. Such experiments would never be conducted in normal times. But today society is facing an extraordinary situation. Despite that the whole world is on the same side – to fight the virus, there are other two important choices governments need to consider: citizen empowerment or global solidarity. People need to comply with certain rules and guidelines imposed by governments. Monitoring people and punishing those who are breaking the rules is a way of maintaining the order in the society. Many countries have opted for technology, using surveillance cameras and algorithms for monitoring people. For instance, the Prime Minister of Israel – Benjamin Netanyahu have recently authorized the Israel Security Agency to allow surveillance technology which is normally used for secret services or for battling terrorists, while now it is used to track people infected with Covid-19. This includes tracking personal data and calls, messages, location, and other personal online behavior. Thus, Israel developed an app in which, based on the personal information tracked, they can display the real-time location of the infected patients, or previous infected people and display a message if they are nearby. This app has developed many arguments and controversies; however, it seems to be a solution in a state of emergency as we are in today. Some might argue that this surveillance has been always present in developed countries, however today we are facing with a more in-depth one, or “under the skin” surveillance that tracks every single movement and alerts if there is a sign of infection such as the temperature of someone’s finger and the blood pressure (Financial Times, 2020).
We live in a time when technology can identify our coughs and our laughs, our temperature and feelings, even predict our behavior and manipulate it if needed. Technology might know us better than we know ourselves. However, it seems today that even technology cannot fully fight the pandemic. Yes, it minimizes cases significantly, but it does not kill it. Fighting the pandemic requires a lot of time and discipline of citizens, meanwhile others get infected and lose their lives. But how to make people listen to authorities and comply with the guidelines? Many people think that the most efficient way is fear and harsh punishments. However, a more reasonable way is to empower and support citizens.
Citizen empowerment means transparency and information. When people are well-informed, when they are told the scientific facts, when citizens trust public authorities they become more acknowledgeable and responsible for themselves. A self-motivated and well-informed citizen is usually far more useful and effective than a surveilled, ignorant population. In fact, washing hands is one of the most helpful advices today which saves millions of lives every day. People wash their hands not because they have been told to do so, but because they understand the importance of it: there are viruses and bacteria that can be easily removed by washing hands and respecting the hygiene.
Humans are in a situation now where every single one is responsible to determine the future of our existence. Our every action is crucial and will ascertain our chances of survival. This pandemic is a collective experience for humanity and will serve as a ray of hope for future extraordinary situations. Today we are witnessing that having technology advancement cannot stop a pandemic. A simple behavior is much more efficient and can prevent devastation. The concept of individual responsibility is a key parameter to move towards a mission against the pandemic. The isolation technique has made us think and look inwards, understand another reality we are facing today. We can advance humanity by having a sense of gratitude towards life, family members and loved ones, developing a special bonding with life. Daily habits which were lost long ago in a fast-moving society are returning. People started cooking their own food, clean their house, read books, spend more time with their children and family members, call their loved ones, play a favorite instrument, learn something new, rest and enjoy their free time.
Millions are wondering what tomorrow will look like, what the future holds for our humanity and how this will affect our families. Many people wonder whether they need to spend money or keep it being uncertain about the future. Because people stopped spending money, the economy has to suffer a lot. Small businesses are the most vulnerable, being fully dependent on the customers who now, are not willing and are afraid to spend money. For instance, only in March some 21,000 more U.K. businesses collapsed than the same month a year ago, while the number of new companies dropped by 23% (Financial Times, 2020). Also, most of the companies who failed were the ones having less than three years of activity.
Despite the huge damages and lives lost during the coronavirus pandemic, there are few lessons that humanity has learnt during this time. People must commit together to build sustainable models for an optimistic future. One of the futuristic lessons learnt is speed and trust. Humanity needs an early warning system for future crises, whether pandemics, epidemics or climate change. Future global crises might not just come from a disease, this is why such a system that people can trust is primordial. People should act together by staying apart.
Secondly, a broadband access to the internet is critical. Internet is like oxygen. Not only students need access to online learning tools, patients also need to comprehend this system and have a digital access to their own health data and treatment plans online. Digital access must be seen as a utility, like electricity. It can be a lifesaver for many people around the world. Health related information can reduce the spread of the virus and help humanity live a better life when there are global restrictions. For instance, digital access allows people to receive and share vital information about the news, updates and measures taken daily about the pandemic. It helps people understand the gravity of the situation and scrutinize officials’ actions. Thus, governments and Internet service providers must spread the accessibility especially in developing countries who are lacking this opportunity. This will not only help people stay informed, it will also contribute to the country’s economy by giving people a way of working, shopping online and communicating.
Another, yet major lesson is medical surge capacity. Countries lack the ability to assemble a powerful intensive care capacity, becoming a challenge for world leaders. Many hospitals around the world are worried about staffing and supply shortages. Countries are suffering from a shortage of testing supplies as well. Medical providers are struggling to get enough protective equipment like masks, numbers of ventilators, medicine. To function properly, intense care units need space, staff such as nurses, doctors, physicians and stuff such as ventilators, proper equipment and medicine. Governments need to give a special attention to strategies that could develop the medical system, and hospitals.
The forth lesson learnt from the coronavirus pandemic is health assurance. People want to live happy and productive lives without healthcare getting in their way. Thus, a futuristic approach is to provide digital health. Instead of investing an infinite amount of money to provide traditional health care such as hospital support to all the 7 billion people around the globe, it is a smarted approach to advance humanity by providing them digital healthcare support. It will save not only monetary resources, but also time, medical resources, providing people with real-time support.
Ethics is the fifth lesson that can be taken from the pandemic. Artificial intelligence (AI) can transform all professions and our future. Digital medicine will give people an unparalleled opportunity to address real-time problems and allow access to everyone in the country and in the neighborhoods. In terms of ethics, it is important to provide support to those who cannot cope with the burden such as an emergency line staffed by psychologists or a website with free assistance to those in need. It is also important to provide transparent information to the citizens, fair and ethically based manner (World Economic Forum, 2020).
Innovation is a fantastic way to advance humanity. However, we need to become more vigilant about our fascination with technology and self-indulgence. Humanity needs to do this for a more balanced future. We need to be vigilant of our actions and how we shape ours and others lives. Now we are benefitting of education, connectivity, traveling and efficiency which humankind have never seen in the past. At the same time, everyone behaves like there is no tomorrow, having an instant pleasure of technology and resource usage. A truly advance in humanity can take place when people are aware of their family, neighbors, people from other countries and environment, of truly valuing what we have and be careful of what we desire. In the future, people will live increasingly in a world full of ideas, concepts and impressions. It is not only about predicting the future of technology, it is also about predicting the future of what people value.
So, how we can advance humanity? A way to strive towards development is to comprehend higher values. Materialistic values should not be priority anymore. In fact, the only real way is to develop a universal drive towards spiritual development to match the rate of technological development. People are using technology to maintain supremacy rather than actually benefit our lives and reduce the problems we are currently dealing with. We need to advance technology together through spiritual development and get to the point where greed no longer drives the society. Corporations and businesses should stop manipulating with the society. Such entrepreneurial behavior keeps the technology and society back instead of advancing it. Humanity need to come to a universal conclusion, not just to a minority. The pandemic showed us that everyone should act as one, stay together and support each other. Separation is not a winning solution, it is a way leading to destruction.
The humanity will be advanced only if we evolve spiritually to a point at which we are able to see the reality clear and acknowledge the weaknesses our society have. People need to change their attitude towards money, work and energy, while the education system needs to consider values that are focused towards skills that enable students understand their role in the society. A spiritual growth does not need a special revolution. It comes naturally, starting with every single one of us and shaping a whole world.
We came to a point where yesterday’s science fiction movies are a reality today. Once the technology became a part of our lives, we started questioning our values and morality within society. I strongly believe that moral decisions should be taken by people with the necessary degree of trusted spiritual development. With the AI advancement, society needs to find a solution that could be balanced with the technological development and understand the iceberg as a whole, not only the top of it. Now is the time to wake up, grow up and act as a worldwide family.
Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic taught us to take care more of each other and appreciate every moment in our life. This is an ultimate value that humanity can benefit of during lockdown. During the past few months millions stayed at home as if the world has stopped for a while. Meantime, people can reflect and meditate on different topics: how important is appreciation and caring. Besides realizing the need of a spiritual development, many of us have felt as if we were in cages during the lockdown. A complete advancement of humanity will happen when people will realize the importance of giving freedom to animals and leaving the world have its natural cycle. People need to understand how animals truly feel when they are in cages. People not only keep animals locked, they also control their life, give them hormones, after giving birth are taking their child and even worse, are consumed in an end or killed for their meat and coat. Humanity shall not survive or live to fulfill their taste pleasures. People are more advanced than that – they are able to develop their spirituality and be intellectual.
In conclusion, all the countries need to act as one, despite of political problems and competition. Countries should be willing to share information, to be open and seek advice from others, being able to trust the data and the information they receive. Instead of acting locally, a global effort can co-operate and make efforts to greatly accelerate production and distribution of the needed items. This unprecedented situation taught us even more than that: to grow morally and spiritually. Technology is great, but more than that, people need empowerment and support, transparency and trust. With patience, humanity will be able to develop a moral posture for future challenging times. Covid-19 pandemic has shaped our lives forever, having a huge impact on our future decisions, values and norms. As leaders we need to believe that the change is in our hands and empathy can help us act as a united family. With each challenge, there is a lesson learnt to become better and stronger, in our case – to become morally healthier and develop a sense of gratitude. The biggest strategy we can develop is the purity of our minds and rightful actions that can shape a better future for everyone.
Bounds, Andy. “Coronavirus Claims Thousands of UK Businesses.” Financial Times. April 19, 2020. Available at https://www.ft.com/content/5d198135-b38f-4512-b611-9f017f76929d
Harari, Yuval. “The World After Coronavirus.” Financial Times. March 20, 2020. Available at https://www.ft.com/content/19d90308-6858-11ea-a3c9-1fe6fedcca75
Klasko, Stephen. “5 Lessons We Must Take From The Coronavirus Crisis.” World Economic Forum. April 13, 2020. Available at https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/5-lessons-from-coronavirus-crisis/