“What have we learned from the health crisis?” Peace Chair asks researchers
COLLEGE PARK, Maryland, United States — Over the past months, the pandemic has afflicted millions with illness, economic hardship, and other crises, prompting a heroic response from people of all walks of life, especially frontline workers. These unprecedented times have also stimulated profound discussions about social progress.
In April, the Baha’i Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland invited researchers to contribute articles for a series titled “Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic”.
“This crisis is revealing both sides of human nature, leading us to think about how we wish to emerge from this period,” says Hoda Mahmoudi, holder of the Baha’i Chair for World Peace. “Will we have made real positive strides—not in appearances only—in achieving greater unity and solidarity?”
The articles explore the effects of the pandemic on economies, the environment, the media, and other areas of life. A common theme is how the health crisis has revealed vast inequalities in society.
Alison Brysk of the University of California, Santa Barbara, describes racism and human rights abuses as diseases that are propagated in society through ‘othering’ and ‘social atomization’. Dr. Brysk notes that overcoming adversity and oppression have historically depended on social solidarity. “This suggests that our ability to confront the epidemic of dehumanization will be the key not just to survive the coronavirus epidemic, but to survive as a civilization.”
Dafna Lemish of Rutgers University in the United States writes about digital inequalities. The dominant theme in public discourse about children’s use of media, Dr. Lemish explains, had been about “screen time,” but now the focus may be changing: “… digital inequalities have been exposed clearly during this crisis as a symptom of many deep structural social inequalities: inequalities of ownership of media and access to internet and streaming services; inequalities created by living conditions that do not allow for proper/desired media use; and inequalities of digital literacy, knowledge and skills for making the best use of media.”
Melissa Nursey-Bray of the University of Adelaide explores how capitalism and consumerism in urban settings have been disconnecting people from each other and from nature, and offers thoughts on how the pandemic is providing a glimmer of hope for different ways of living.
“Our attention, previously consumed by leisure and desire to purchase, has been replaced by the need to pay attention to other, yet also very important, everyday practices, ones that involve our family, and emphasize more local lifestyles and priorities,” writes Dr. Nursey-Bray. The article also explores the need for creating urban spaces where people can gather and engage in dialogue about sustainable living.
Commenting on another theme in the series—the empowerment of women—Dr. Mahmoudi states: “A high proportion of essential workers during the pandemic have been women. While making enormous contributions to society, for example, as healthcare providers and sanitary workers, many women have also been taking on a large share of the work at home, caring for young and elderly members of their families. And yet, sadly, violence toward women has increased.
“Women have always had a significant role in any society, but their important contributions are often overlooked and unappreciated. Women’s full participation in constructing a different world in which they have full equality of education and opportunity and an equal voice in decision-making is essential in order to create sustainable social order. Until they have full equality, peace will never be realized.”
Reflecting on the contributions thus far, Dr. Mahmoudi says: “The intention of this series has been to broaden understanding and knowledge, which in turn makes more action possible. Change has always begun when a small group of people with lofty yet realistic ideals and a spirit of hope begin to take determined action.”
Articles in this series are being published on the blog of the Baha’i Chair.