Humaneness in the Face of a Global Pandemic

By Damilola Victoria Oduola

Recently, the nation-wide lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic has afforded me the much needed time to explore some documentaries and commentaries on war, human suffering and diseases outbreaks but none had struck me as the discussion I had with my brother some days ago. I was telling him about a documentary I had seen on the devastating effects of the Ebola disease outbreak in Liberia and while I was still speaking, he asked me “but how do you think people would respond to situations like this? Would people still do good in the face of immense suffering such as this?”

This conversation has caused me to reflect on the current crisis confronting our world- the COVID-19 pandemic- and how we are responding to it. The corona virus pandemic, which constitutes the largest global public health crisis of the century, has brought unprecedented health, social and economic challenges that have resulted in the death of millions, fear of an impending economic crisis and recession, movement restrictions, forced decrease in the workforce across all economic sectors, the lockdown of schools, global unemployment in the medium and long term and increase in human suffering. There are many who are crying as a result of job loss, parents who are worried about how to fend for their children, students who are worried about when they are going to return to school, the elderly who are alone, the sick who are isolated in quarantine centres and the disabled who are struggling to take care of themselves. In our world, so many people are dealing with the consequences of this pandemic.

While we may want to respond by saying “I am not responsible for the sufferings around me” or “I did not cause COVID-19!”, it is imperative to know that when confronted with incredible suffering caused by disease or any other form of disaster; we can feel morally obligated to act. That we are not responsible for the suffering around us does not absolve us of the moral obligation to reach out to those who are affected. This is because helping others is a fundamental part of our humanity! Extending hands of compassion and generosity to others proves that we are human beings who are capable of empathy and altruism. Thus, I believe there is a ray of hope amidst the turbulent waters if we offer kindness proactively by giving our time and resources to those in need, practicing hospitality especially to the disabled, the elderly, the sick and the needy, staying connected to others by checking on them, speaking words of encouragement and obeying the rules of constituted authorities in curtailing the spread of the virus.

As Michael Austin, an American philosopher, commented “if we are going to survive this pandemic not only with our physical health but also our moral health- indeed, our humanity- intact, we must go beyond the ethics of rigid rules, rights and responsibilities, to an ethics of grace, generosity and gratitude”. This means that we should at every point demonstrate humaneness by practicing generosity, compassion and hospitality. COVID-19 is not only a challenge to our health, socio-economic, educational and religious systems but also a test of our humanity. If humaneness becomes our weapon, we might as well emerge from this ‘pandemic war’ unscathed.

Damilola Oduola is a graduate student of philosophy at the University of Ibadan