We read almost daily that the environment is clearing because of the decrease of industrial activity, air travel, and ground transportation. We have known that we must make these decreases and others (apparently we can clean the oceans within 30 years¹ in the near future), yet we have not been doing nearly enough, fast enough. Now we are being forced to achieve results in very little time.
Perhaps we can be inspired by this, and decide to build on it. Perhaps re-building the air transportation networks or the cruise lines is a mistake? The know-how of those executives, designers, engineers, pilots and air crews, and all manner of sea-going professionals can, surely, be put to other uses? The military will doubtless retain air power, and we may need to retain airlift capabilities for disaster relief and for access to otherwise remote locations. Sea cargo transport, hospital and rescue ships, and military ships will always be needed.
While it is easy to understand why business meetings in person are preferable, businesses can no doubt communicate on-line most of the time. Desirable also it is to see how other people live, and to physically experience different cultures and ways of living. Virtual and physical travel may help us understand others better. But perhaps if we don’t travel for business and tourism as much as we have been doing, there will be less crowding of the usual destinations such as Venice – less damage physical damage to the sites. Perhaps eliminating temporary rental lodgings where there used to be homes for locals, would be good for the communities?
Perhaps we might see ethical benefits in these changes. Perhaps we will be moved to find less polluting ways to make things and transport them, but still have dignified employment. The concept of dignified employment is an artificial and arbitrary one. For example, I think that one of the most important occupations in our society is to be a school crossing-walk guard. They protect our children from traffic and strangers. Another category is school bus drivers. Do we ascribe dignity to these occupations? They are part-time, low-paid, they work in terrible weather and appear for two shifts at opposite ends of the day. We should value them for protecting our children, rather than for their pay status, or for whether they need sophisticated and expensive qualifications.
Others who provide such basic but necessary and important services are farmers and temporary field workers, personal support workers, cooks, truckers, logistics administrators and fork-lift drivers in warehouses and storage areas, grocers, sanitation workers, water workers, public transit drivers and maintenance and cleaning people; mechanics, controllers, repair people (the Toronto Transit Commission still has an iron monger/blacksmith), and transit, rail station, and airport staff of all kinds. There are wait staff, ticket takers, janitors, and very, very important hospital and nursing home cleaners – we really need them during this crisis. Had these occupations the dignity and recognition they merit, we would easily perceive the comparative value of other occupations as well, which might lower.
That might help us create employment outside our current categories, and we might deem serving and taking care of other people, animals, and the environment, to be at least as important as making things.
We are well on our way to ever-more automated manufacturing. Perhaps this is the time to let replaced employees broaden their visions out to new (to them) occupations which have been around a while, and embrace them and be paid respectfully for them. If our polluting industries no longer account for much employment and income for people, perhaps it will be easier to transform them to non-polluting activities.²
Perhaps seeing the almost immediate dramatic benefits of less polluting activity, will inspire us to make these and other changes.
Many people who are now quarantined are finding quiet in their lives. There is not so much accustomed activity; perhaps not so much to say; perhaps not so much to look at, listen to, pay attention to. This may not be pleasant, perhaps boring, perhaps so unnatural as to be frightening. Perhaps lonely. Perhaps this is the first time in a long while that each of us has had time and opportunity to be alone with ourselves, to feel centred in our lives where and when we are at the moment, without much thought to what’s next.
There is opportunity to find good in the normality of quiet which was commonplace many years ago. Once upon a time in our western society, quiet was normal. Sabbaths used to require quiet for much of the day. A day of rest, it was called. These had been with us well into the noisy industrial age. We need not think of quiet as a new, radical, never-before accomplished quality. Libraries were quiet, bars were noisy. School had quiet times of learning, but also boisterous times of physical activity. Concerts had attentive quiet. Sports events had attentive noise. There were times for quiet and times for noise, and no one expected either to be the only lifestyle.
Quiet can help us concentrate, still the heart, and still the head. It can soothe the spirit. It can revere and honour the dead and the suffering. It can raise its head, or bow its head, in respect for the great when they arrive, and depart. We can remember by telling stories noisily and joyfully; we can remember by joining in silence.
There can be too much quiet. I have read that when there is little external stimulus to occupy the brain, the brain, needing to prepare for threat, occupies itself by creating scenarios for the future. That is perhaps easier to do in times of quiet, though it may also spawn too much worry.
But perhaps we can find the value of quiet for ourselves, just the right amount, in this time of enforced quiet, and seek ways to “get back to normal” without losing quiet and its value for us.
This is related to quiet. Probably many of us feel that we are doing too much, staying too busy, doing things we cannot recall, keeping our stress and heart action going, multitasking, avoiding sleep, avoiding even rest. Now that there is less required activity because unemployment enables less, we have time to know how we feel when less busy. We may like it. Not everyone will come to value quiet, and time for introspection, and time to be with our families for longer hours with no particular activities at hand. But I recall my favourite expression when in the midst of busy, demanding days: “Don’t just do something: stand there!” Counterintuitive in our times…until now.
When we are not so busy exercising our conscious minds, we give our subconscious less competition for energy. That’s were our creativity occurs; that’s where we examine the events of the day and figure out how they affect our emotions, our spirits, our relationships, our feeling about ourselves. That’s where we make our important decisions. That’s where we acknowledge grief and love, loneliness, longing, frustration, eagerness, pessimism, and optimism. That’s where faith raises its quiet voice, when we’re not too busy to notice.
We may come to value the reduced busyness. We may want to change the world so we won’t have to return to such busyness.
I am sure that thoughts like these have occurred to everybody. I think we should say aloud at every possible opportunity, what we don’t want to lose; what we want changed; and what we want to keep among the many changes we experience now. Let us remember, preserve, and perpetuate the good things.
¹https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/01/oceans-can-be-restored-to-former-glory-within-30-years-say-scientists; https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/climate-emissions-wmo-1.5540721; https://www.theglobeandmail.com/investing/investment-ideas/article-oil-crash-could-have-investors-eyeing-fossil-fuel-free-sustainable/