Human beings are always connected and always alone. This paradox is inherent in being human. It is a given of existence, no matter our status in life. We can be surrounded by thousands, or in a forest by ourselves. Whatever the circumstance, we will still be alone within ourselves and simultaneously connected to a planet of 7 billion-plus people.
The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on this existential paradox. We are struggling to make meaning of the crisis and our place in it. I believe it will be helpful to explore both sides of this paradox.
We are always connected
The first half of the paradox is “we are always connected.” COVID-19 is impacting the whole world. The virus is inclusive and respects no borders. In a sobering way, this is a powerful confirmation that all of humanity is interdependent and must work together to solve the urgent problems facing us.
I believe this pandemic can serve as an opportunity to recognize and embrace our inter-connectedness. To resolve the pandemic, we are being shown that we must collaborate as individuals and as nations. This applies to any issue facing humanity, such as climate change. To survive and thrive as a species on our planet, we must recognize that the Other is us. If we do so, we will respond to others from love, not react to others from fear.
Embracing that we are all connected allows us to thrive and open our hearts to our fellow humans. We will be coming from our best selves as we approach everyone as mindfully and heartfully as we can. This will build trust and cooperation.
In his books on depolarization, Kirk Schneider, PhD., has developed a system for recognizing and valuing the experience of people with opposing views. His hope is that the system will help facilitate people with opposing viewpoints to achieve a mutual valuing of each other and possibly come to a common ground.
We are always alone
The other half of the existential paradox is that “we are always alone.” The reality that we are always alone is vividly apparent as we cope with COVID-19. No one can be in our skin. No one else can live our life for us. Nor can we live theirs. We can express empathy for each other. However, empathy is approximating what the other person is experiencing by using our own life as a frame of reference. Empathy is not embodying their unique experience. That is theirs alone.
Recognizing the value of being alone is essential to living a rich life. Recognizing the value of being alone allows us to connect to our personhood. Through our personhood, we connect to our intuitive selves. We realize who we are. We are able to discover and actualize our creative capacities. This is essential to contributing to the global community.
My own anxieties and fears in relationship to COVID-19 will be unique to me. It does help me to recognize that others have fears and anxieties as well, but theirs will be unique to them, based on their life experiences.
No one can take my unique anxieties and fears away from me. Even though I can get help, ultimately only I can be responsible for working through them. Simultaneously, I can’t take away the unique fears and anxieties of others. The grimmest example of how we are alone in this pandemic is, because of the infection risk, there are often no family or friends to witness our passing at our bedside.
We are always connected and we are always alone
COVID-19 is shining a light on the existential paradox that we are always connected and always alone. Denying either aspect doesn’t serve ourselves or the global community. To move forward in a constructive manner, we must honor both sides of the paradox. We must honor that our individual experiences inform our approach to the pandemic. Simultaneously, we must honor that we are facing this as a global community. We need to resolve this as a global community.
Holding both sides of this paradox will allow us to act from a sense of wholeness, and through wholeness, we will thrive.
Schneider, PhD., Kirk (2020) The Depolarizing of America: A Guidebook for Social Healing. University Press