Sunday, 24 May 2020

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn? Post 5

Please see
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 1

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 2

The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 3
The Corona Virus: What are We to Learn?  Post 4

What we seem to be seeing in our world today, somewhat in response to this pandemic, is a myriad of opinions on a variety of matters. It seems that almost everyone affected by this situation, each in his/her own way, is involved in some type of investigation of what all this means and has an opinion on how one now should proceed with life. Should I wear a mask or not? Should I promote a law demanding everyone to wear a mask? Is such a law, though, a negation of liberty which I should rather support? There seems to be much consideration and re-consideration on various issues within life. The reality is simply affecting people's thoughts and ideas in a variety of different ways, including, often, yielding contradictory results. Some with which we may personally agree; some with which we may not. 

The point is that this pandemic is also causing people in general, each in their own way, to further consider their own lives and existence specifically and in general. It is causing people to think about different issues within life, even matters they, possibly, may have never considered before.  We may now thus ask; what are we to learn from this increase in questioning in response to this pandemic? What are we to then learn from these thoughts and perspectives people are developing in response to this situation? Individuals are strongly voicing opinions and acting upon them in response to the present reality. How are we to consider all this and respond ourselves? What are we to learn from this human reaction in thought to this pandemic?

Of course, on a basic level, it would seem to be generally good that people are thinking more. Pursuant to Torah thought, it would seem to be clear that God values human beings thinking about reality. The results of such investigations are usually more positive than the conclusions reached without any true thought. As T.B. Sotah 3a states, sin is, on some level, a product of foolishness. It is clear, according to many midrashim, that Avraham Avinu found God because he asked the right questions and would not shy away from the intellectual and thoughtful undertakings necessary to find the correct answers to those questions. In a certain way, this is also the basis upon which our pursuit within this series is based. We have a problem we are facing within this world. What are we to learn from this? It would seem that this is also a reflection of the basic question which is bothering most people -- and that would seem to be good.

The problem is that even as someone may ask the right questions, the answers reached may not necessarily be positive or proper. Avraham was not the first to ask the questions he asked. There were obviously many people who were bothered by the questions our forefather asked about reality. He was, though, specifically the first who arrived at the correct answer. This was, in part, because he would not settle for the incomplete answers that others were accepting. Idolatry was, for example, the accepted response in explaining the nature of the world -- although it obviously still contained many difficulties in properly explaining reality. People, though, wanted to accept it. It may be that they were too lazy or too confused to truly pursue the issue. It may be that they were satisfied with the answers they reached because they served their self-interests. Maybe many individuals were absorbed and/or overwhelmed by the basic ordinary demands of existence. Thinking is good but then one also has to accept the further and demanding challenge of thinking coherently.

Something within the present reality is causing individuals to question and think - and on issues they would normally set aside. As part of our learning experience, we may then wish to further examine this response, with all its variances, to this extended stimulus of thought. What are we to learn from not just peoples' actions in response to this pandemic but also from these thought processes which are resulting in these actions? Given this variance in responses, there may actually be many different insights into humanity which we may be able to learn from this event. The first significant factor which we may want to consider, though, is actually this very fact, that there is such a spectrum of responses. Why is there such diversity -- even such conflict -- in the responses to this reality?

People are arguing over who is responsible for this pandemic. They are arguing over how to respond. They are battling over values. In many ways, we may say that this is not new. What does stand out, though, from my perception, is the intensity that is being expressed. Everything is seen as so tied to life and one's and one's own family's personal well-being. that every viewpoint which a person may adopt is given significant status. The further problem, though, is that the issue is actually most complex. The answers are thus not easy. Precisely because the issue is most serious and answers are demanded, such complexity only presents a further problem; it means that an answer is not easily forthcoming. It can thus cause people to accept simple answers which don't reflect the true complexity of the matter and, thus, are inherently problematic. This leads to the bottom-line argument -- I'm right; no, I'm right -- and is that not what we are also seeing in many of the responses to this pandemic?

God clearly wants us to think -- but he wants us to think properly and to then recognize that even what we determine to be the best possible answer may still contain challenges. A conclusion based on serious thought is still, however, much better than all the alternative simple answers which ignore the true complexity of the matter. Avraham Avinu's answer of monotheism still contained the most difficult question found within Torah -- why do good things happen to evil people and bad things to good people? Idolatry -- especially, for example, in the form of Zoroastrianism -- was supported by the theory that such conflicts in reality emerged from the divergent 'godly' forces some of which were good and some bad. That argument, however, was inherently simplistic and Avraham easily refuted it and thus arrived at the true answer of One God. His answer, though, was still complex and did not erase all the human questions. That is the reality of thought and the challenge of thinking.

In many ways, this is an idea which is truly being played out in our world today and something we must learn and continue to learn. There are people voicing opinions strongly advocating for one course of action or another. The question is whether they are considering the whole picture, evaluating all the facts most studiously and arriving at their conclusions most industriously. It still may be that there are legitimate reasons for differences in opinion and this is to be properly noted. It may also be that such divergence in opinion, however, simply reflects weakness in analysis and thought in many ways. 

From this pandemic, people are actually learning that there is a need to think, to consider their lives and how to best live. The further matter we are to learn, though, is how to do so properly, considering the complexity of life and the influence of our own selves in our answers. Honestly being aware of this challenge is also a matter we can and must learn from experiencing this virus with proper considerations.

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