In The New Jerusalem #100 Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) wrote:
Kindness is doing things sensibly so that good will come from them.
As I write this, fear and panic are spreading around the world about the coronavirus, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Schools, churches, and businesses are closing, either voluntarily or by government decree. People are panic-buying non-perishable items such as toilet paper, resulting in empty shelves at stores. Xenophobia and racism are on the rise, and conspiracy theories are proliferating, as people look for someone to blame.
Our suggestion in the midst of all this:
Step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and engage your thinking mind. No matter what mayhem may be going on all around us, the best results will come from acting based on sound information, from a good heart, to bring about the best possible outcome—even if that means the least bad outcome.
We therefore recommend that you:
- Inform yourself about COVID-19 from reliable sources.
- Put current events into a wider context.
- Take reasonable steps to protect yourself and the people around you.
- Act sensibly so that good will come from it.
- Put current events into a spiritual context.
First, we need good information
The best antidote to fear and panic is good, sound information. Though people are indeed getting sick, and some are dying, from the coronavirus, the world as we know it is not coming to an end. The better informed we are, the more reasonably we can think, and the more effectively we can act, in the midst of all the fear and panic.
There are many good sources of information out there. Here are a few Wikipedia pages that provide solid information, including references to many medical and scientific articles:
Instead of rushing out to the grocery store to buy more toilet paper, take some time to read these articles, and to follow any references you find interesting and helpful. The better informed you are, the more sensibly you can act, and the better the outcome of your actions will be.
Next, put things into a wider context
We’ve been through all of this before, and we’re still here. Sometimes things got ugly. But life went on. It will be the same with the coronavirus. Fear and panic will make things worse, not better.
Consider that every year, up to 650,000 people die of various strains of flu worldwide. (See Wikipedia -> Influenza -> Epidemic and pandemic spread.) This approaches the number of deaths in events that are declared pandemics. Yet we do not descend into mass hysteria every year.
Consider that recent pandemics have had far fewer deaths, especially as a percentage of the overall population, than the pandemics of earlier centuries. See, for example:
In the pandemics of earlier ages, tens or even hundreds of millions of people died, and those deaths reached as high as 50% of the population of the worst-hit areas, and up to 90% of especially vulnerable groups. More recent pandemics have generally killed 1–4 million people, and the deaths usually amount to less than 1% of the total population.
Are all of these deaths from outbreaks of disease good? Of course not. But if we put our current situation into the context of earlier eras of humanity, we can see that all of our recent advances in hygiene and health knowledge over the past century have greatly diminished the death toll when outbreaks of disease do rear their ugly head.
Reasonable precautions greatly reduce risk
Further, precisely because we do have much better knowledge about hygiene and health than we did in the past, we can take reasonable precautions that will greatly reduce our own risk of getting seriously or fatally ill, and will also reduce the risk for the people we love and care about.
For the basics, see: Wikipedia -> 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic -> Prevention
There you will find recommendations that you:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, not into your hand.
- Avoid unnecessary closeness or contact with other people.
- Isolate yourself at home if you think you may be sick, or if you are in a high-risk group.
These and other reasonable precautions will greatly reduce the likelihood that you and the people you come in contact with will become infected and develop a severe case of the virus.
Beyond these specific recommendations, tending to your general health is the best defense against becoming severely or fatally ill. Do all the things you know are good for you: eat good food, not junk food. Get regular and sufficient sleep. Get regular exercise and fresh air. And so on. The healthier you are, the less likely you are to get seriously ill.
In short, we are not helpless in the face of the coronavirus. We can take sensible actions to protect ourselves and the people we love and care about.
Act sensibly for the good of everyone
As in any outbreak of disease, it is the elderly and the sick that are most at risk. Since the coronavirus attacks the lungs, people who have diminished lung function for any reason are especially at risk.
Younger people, and healthy people, are unlikely to experience anything more than a severe flu that may be very uncomfortable for a time, but that will pass without serious repercussions.
However, the best outcomes in life do not come from thinking only of ourselves. Perhaps you yourself are not at great risk of dying from coronavirus. But what about your grandmother or grandfather? What about your brother or sister who has asthma? What about your friend who is already very sick, and can’t handle yet another health issue right now?
You may not think it is necessary to take all the precautions for yourself. But think about all of the people you come in contact with every day, and consider whether your actions, or inaction, might cause one of them to become severely, or even fatally, ill. Then act sensibly for the good of everyone, not just for your own good.
This also includes thinking of people for whom it would be dangerous to go out, and helping them to safely get the food and supplies that they need.
Life is more than life and death
Finally, it is good to put all of this into a spiritual context.
Our life here on earth is about more than our physical life and death. We are here for a greater purpose. That purpose is to grow spiritually and equip ourselves for eternal life in heaven.
Does that mean we are preparing ourselves to sit on clouds playing harps for all eternity?
No. Heaven, like earth at its best, is a community of people who all love and care about each other, and who spend their lives engaging in active love and service for each other. And of course, it is a place where we are continually learning new things and improving our mind and our character.
Acting sensibly so that good will come from it is not just a practical matter of bringing about better outcomes here on earth. It is also a spiritual matter of growing into better and more loving people, both individually and collectively, in preparation for our eternal life in heaven.
And remember, death is not the end. Yes, it is difficult and painful for us here on earth to face our own death, and the death of the people we love and care about. But no matter what the ultimate death toll from coronavirus may be, not a single person has really died. They have simply passed from this world to the next.
There, after a time of transition, they will go on to live eternally the life they have chosen here on earth. And for people who have spent their lives acting sensibly so that good will come from it, that will be a very happy life indeed.
For further reading: