Academy of Singing, Nature and Health – www.healingsongs.de
On first glance it may seem surprising to explore development opportunities and potential improvements of future human interactions in the light of the current corona pandemic. The spread of the virus SARS-CoV-2 has already led to a tremendous amount of pain, suffering and numerous deaths in many countries such as Italy or Spain. Moreover, due to the crisis many people are facing existential emergency situations and the global economy has begun to falter. In this paper we are addressing governments, economists, business leaders and individuals around to world and encourage them to challenge existing systems, policies and ways of thinking. We outline potential societal, ecological and ethical opportunities which might arise from the current crisis. The decisions which are going to be made in the next few years will bring fundamental changes to our society as we know it. They will define how we as humans are going to live together in the future, and whether we will be able to tackle challenges such as climate change and social inequality successfully. We urge decision-makers around the world to reassess existing processes and strive for closer collaboration and a healthy debate between governments, businesses and scientists.
Strengthening of Solidarity, Compassion, Cooperativeness and Humanity
It is impressive to see how in Germany, Italy and other places greed for profit, rivalry and egoism are more and more replaced by alternative values such as solidarity and compassion for elderly or chronically ill people. Every day it becomes clearer how important our health care system, hospitals, practices and research institutes are and how wrong it was to increasingly cut costs and economize the health care system. Nurses and caregivers, doctors and all other staff who are part of the system are currently saving lives with great commitment and ensure the functioning of our society. Those commitments are complemented by a variety of other services provided by the police, firefighters, gardeners, garbage collectors, peasants but also cleaning staff, cashiers, marketers and many voluntary helpers as well as politicians, civil servants and public employees.
In fact, through responsible behaviour and the adherence to protective measures, every individual helps to eliminate risks of transmitting the virus and thus preventing a breakdown of our health care system. It is becoming increasingly clear how cooperation rather than egoism is leading us towards a more humane society. Arguably, an earlier and closer collaboration between governments, virologists and other scientists could have significantly slowed down the advance of the outbreak and prevented many deaths.
Common Welfare Instead of Profits
It is also becoming clear that common welfare must be moved further into the spotlight. Instead of capitalistic profit maximization, politicians and entrepreneurs should strive more towards common welfare and sustainability. We need a new economic system, which is oriented towards the common good – a system, that allows for cooperation and collaboration, win-win situations and social justice instead of favoring few, who enrich themselves at the expense of many. This is not impossible to achieve and leading thinkers have already developed extensive models which could be used as an inspiration when designing those new systems (Raworth, 2017; Felber, 2015). We are not arguing that competition should be fully replaced by cooperation. Competition is necessary to provide incentives and fuel the transition. However, ultimately in the new system competition must be based on the contribution towards the common good instead of solely relying on financial performance criteria.
Quarantine, Lockdown, Social Distancing versus Retreat and Deceleration
The societal shutdown leads to extensive social withdrawal as a protective measure in order to prevent transmittance of the virus. We are faced with a sudden decline of hectic activity, mobility, occupational stress, party culture and other distractions. Instead of classifying this situation as solely negative, we could adopt an alternative perspective: Our lives are slowing down, and we can finally take some time for ourselves. But what does quarantine have to do with retreat?
In many spiritual traditions of humanity such a period is called “retreat” or “inner communion”. The traditional conclave of the Sufis, a mystic movement within the Islam, as well as the Lenten season in Christianity, a time of contemplation and prayer, both last for 40 days, respectively. Jesus himself is said to have gone to the desert for 40 days to fast and overcome temptations. Remarkably, the term “quarantine” comes from the Gallo-Roman “quaranta”, which is the word for the number “forty”.
Interestingly, the Holy Corona (160-177 AD) is the patron saint against epidemics. She is also, however, the saint of the treasure seekers. While this might be a huge coincidence, it could still be a valid request to make use of this time as an inner retreat and reflection, to look for the treasures lying in ourselves instead of continuing our search focusing on merely the outside – as it is often the case in the extroverted, Western societies, unlike in Eastern traditions which are characterized by meditative practices.
Confrontation with Mortality and Vulnerability
The corona pandemic currently confronts us not only with our own mortality and vulnerability. We are now experiencing our limitations when it comes to preventing deaths or extending lives discretionarily. Instead of continuing to suppress our own mortality, the crisis forces us to deal with the finiteness of life and experience the correlating emotions and feelings. This opens up opportunities for a renewal of human culture around death and mourning. We get the chance to build a culture which does not push those topics to the side but allows us to properly live through the corresponding agony, as well as to share it with other people – a culture, that allows for more compassion and maturation.
From Narcistic Anthropocentrism to Eco-Centrism
In a very drastic way, all humans currently get to experience how vulnerable we truly are. The so-called “Anthropocene” (epoch of humans) has led to a world view, in which we believe in feasibility, success, money and – through extension of life – potentially even in upcoming immortality (Harari, 2016).
We revolve around ourselves, see ourselves as the “crown of creation” and exploit our planet’s resources regardlessly, without thinking about the long-term impacts. We now experience that just a tiny virus can widely paralyze humanity. What would happen if the virus was a hundred times more deadly, or even a thousand times? This confrontation with our own limitations and finiteness opens up an opportunity to recognize our anthropocentrism and set off our journey towards the eco-centric epoch.
In our view it is necessary for us humans to leave behind this anthropocentric attitude, which causes us to continuously revolve around ourselves and our own needs, entirely detached and unconnected, viewing our planet as a warehouse full of unlimited resources. The aim should be to find our way to eco-centrism, in which the earth is viewed as the center of all life, in which we recognize and feel our participation and connection to the whole ecosphere and in which we contribute to expanding, nurturing and enhancing life on this living planet.
The Coronavirus and Ecological Consciousness
The coronavirus most likely originates from a fish market in Wuhan, at which wild animals are traded illegally and held in a very confined space in narrow cages. Those practices lead to a reciprocal spread of viruses through dung, blood and direct contact between unrelated animals. As it has been demonstrated in previous cases, under these conditions pathogens can be transmitted to humans (Hokan, 2020). The pressing necessity of ethically responsible treatment of animals worldwide becomes evident.
Similarly, intensive animal farming and the excessive use of antibiotics therein must be stopped, as a side effect of this habit is an increasing occurrence of multi-resistant germs. In consequence, the effectiveness of antibiotics within the treatment of humans has been continuously declining. A study conducted by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (Cassini et al., 2019) found that in 2015 alone more than 33,000 Europeans died as result of an infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It can be assumed that the extensive use of antibiotics in intensive animal farming have contributed significantly to this number of deaths.
Finally, Chinese cities have seen a significant decline of air pollution following the corona crisis, as aerial photographs by the NASA have shown (Bayerischer Rundfunk, 2020). Considering the results of a recent study which estimates that around 4.5 million people die every year due to the exposure to air pollution from fossil fuels (Myllyvirta, 2020), life scientist Daniel Christian Wahl’s train of thought seems plausible: “Already the lives saved by dropping air pollution in China alone might soon begin to out-number the tragic and catastrophic loss of lives that the viral pandemic is and will continue to cause“ (Wahl, 2020). This represents an opportunity to critically and ecologically evaluate how much flight and car traffic is indeed necessary and whether a part of it could potentially be replaced by public transport, Skype meetings or green technology solutions.
What We Can Learn from Indigenous Cultures
In indigenous cultures the earth is seen as a godly, conscious entity. The philosopher, biologist and author Andreas Weber argues that the indigenous people have always thought of and lived in a world of non-separation (Weber, 2018). According to Weber, they have designed their relationship with the environment in a way that allowed them to ecologically survive for hundreds of thousands of years, whereas modern civilization managed to minimize its own livelihood within a century, finding itself trapped in a galloping global warming and initiating a dramatic decline of biodiversity.
Today we are living in a separation from nature, as outlined by the environmental activist, mathematician and philosopher Charles Eisenstein in his book Climate – A New Perspective (Eisenstein, 2018). Eisenstein invites us to a change of consciousness, which would allow us to start viewing the earth as a living and organismic planet again, as it has always been done by indigenous cultures.
The effects of the coronavirus show us that we are capable of abstaining from flights, giving up our mobility, ending air pollution and following new rules and restrictions within a very short period of time, if it is necessary for saving lives and maintaining our safety. This lets us hope that we as humanity have the capability required to deal with the global climate crisis.
If we truly realize the fact that more than 600,000 children die every year due to lung diseases, which are presumed to be caused by air pollution, as the World Health Organization suggests (WHO, 2018), it seems hard to believe that we currently mobilize everything we can to respond to the corona virus disease COVID-19, but close our eyes to the reality of the numerous victims and damages caused by the climate crisis.
Let us seize this tragic, though historical opportunity to reroute globally and set off into the “ecozoic era”, or the “ecological age”, which is what the polymath and passionate environmental activist Thomas Berry described as the current task for humanity in The Universe Story (Swimme and Berry, 1994). Therefore, the coronavirus, coming from the wilderness, might soon prove to be a meaningful catalyst for the essential ecological transformation of our global society.
Wolfgang Bossinger is head of the Academy of Singing, Nature and Health (“Akademie für Singen, Natur und Gesundheit“), Music Therapist (dipl.), Psychotherapist (HPG), Singing Activist, as well as author of multiple books and movies. He is also founder and honorary chairman of Singing Hospitals / Singende Krankenhäuser e.V. - International Network for the promotion of singing in healthcare settings and a board member of the "Deutsche Stiftung Singen" as well as “Il Canto del Mondo - Internationales Netzwerk zur Förderung der Alltagskultur des Singens e. V.”.
In his most recent works, he has been focusing on using singing as a means of strengthening the love for our planet and fighting for the preservation of ecosystems. He is involved with various organizations and initiatives such as “BUND - Friends Of The Earth Germany”, “Bündnis 90/DIE GRÜNEN” (German Green Party), Greenpeace, and “Singing Planet”.
Lukas David Bossinger holds a degree in Business Psychology (BSc) from Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences and is currently studying International Business and Emerging Markets (MSc) at the University of Edinburgh. After graduating from high school, he completed a Federal Voluntary Service at a public youth center. During his studies, he has been awarded with multiple scholarships, such as the Germany Scholarship (“Deutschlandstipendium”), PROMOS Scholarship and University of Edinburgh Business School Scholarship. He has worked for multiple international companies and organizations and has been a sustaining member of Greenpeace since December 2018.