Opinion guest column

Now is the time for community, solidarity, and love

Three themes we must commit to in order to weather this crisis together

I’m still in a sort of numb state of shock from recent events. I first heard about “an outbreak of viral pneumonia” in Wuhan the first week of January, before IAP. Who could have known that, two and a half months later, it would have led to this? All of this?

So with that in mind, I figured I’d write something, to rant, to decompress, and to just share my thoughts on all of this with you all.

Now, there’s much to be discussed about the actions of governing institutions in response to this pandemic, whether it be the Chinese Communist Party, the Trump Administration, or institutions closer to home. While I have (strong) opinions, I figure that enough ink has been and will be spilled writing about these topics, so I won’t focus on them for this article. I also won’t focus on arguing about what the ideal policy response should be, since I don’t think I’m particularly qualified to speak about that. (All I’ll say is that testing should be dramatically ramped up and more social distancing measures should be mandated.) Instead, I’ll focus on the grassroots level, particularly on three interrelated themes that, in my mind, must define, have defined, and will continue to define our communal reaction to this pandemic.

It goes without saying that we human beings are social creatures by nature. Perhaps it is more important to note the profound influence that community has in shaping us as individuals. Community acts as a sort of anchor that we can rely on when navigating a chaotic world. At the same time, community acts as a sort of prism through which we view and interpret this chaotic world. As such, community is crucial for our social lives, particularly when it comes to persevering through crises like the one we are facing now. Unfortunately, the current pandemic merits stringent social distancing standards, which would have nearly completely destroyed any sense of community in the past. Fortunately, current levels of technology enable a level of virtual connection that can come close to, if not completely replace, physical kinds of community. We should make use of this technology not only to maintain a sense of community, but also to build more robust communities capable of providing support during this trying time; this will prove crucial to weathering this crisis. So now is the time for community.

One of the ways through which community helps us weather crises is through solidarity with our fellow community members. The current crisis facing us, a pandemic, makes solidarity doubly important, given the necessity of slowing the spread of infection, in order to flatten the curve of cases. Solidarity forces us to recognize the concerns of other people and, moreover, motivates us to act with them and for them. As such, while social distancing can be quite painful on an individual level, we can and must all abide by it in order to ensure the safety of our loved ones and of our community. That being said, solidarity shouldn’t just take the form of social distancing. It should also involve other actions beneficial for the health of our community. This includes providing for families in need and not hoarding food and medical supplies, along with buying gift cards from and otherwise supporting small businesses. The former helps ensure that all families have sufficient supplies throughout this pandemic, and the latter helps ensure that small businesses survive the negative economic shocks of the pandemic. Together, this all helps ensure that we all weather this crisis together. So now is the time for solidarity.

Finally, while community and solidarity are incredibly important, they might not be completely self-sustaining. Indeed, one of the main drivers behind both community and solidarity is love. While your commitment to community and solidarity might be driven, in part, by some game theory cost-benefit analysis, it’s likely driven mostly by love: your love for your parents, your love for your elderly neighbors, or your love for your teachers, for instance. This love will become even more important in sustaining community and solidarity in the coming months, as the pandemic will likely induce further stress and pain. So even as we close public places, ranging from churches to restaurants, movie theaters to sports games, as part of necessary social distancing measures, we must not close off our hearts. In fact, if anything, we must open up our hearts further, to a love that is as unbridled, as unfiltered, and as unadulterated as possible. Now, more than ever, we need to love our family, love our friends, love our neighbors, and love our community, in order to weather this crisis. So now is the time for love.

One might be expected to think that the above three themes are all but impossible to achieve, given all the negative stories that typically flood our screens. And, indeed, I’ve seen a scattered assortment of stories of hoarding, of racism, of apathy. So we certainly can do (much) better. But I’ve also seen so many, many more awe-inspiring stories, whether in person, through my social media feeds, or via news outlets:

Stories of frontline medics making profound sacrifices in service of their critically ill patients.

Stories of massive donations of supplies and support from both wealthy philanthropists and everyday people.

And stories of communities banding together, whether to check in on and help elderly and other vulnerable members of the community, or to simply sing together in solidarity.

Even in our MIT community, there are so many amazing stories of people standing up to support their fellow human beings. Anthony Bau, Lillian Chin, Daniel Gonzalez, Brice Huang, Yolanda Lau, and thousands more students, alums, GRAs, Heads of Houses, faculty, and staff have stood up to help, whether it’s sustaining our community virtually, finding housing for and providing other support to our community, or fighting for our community. I don’t know how else to describe this near-collective commitment to community, solidarity, and love, aside from simply calling it awe-inspiring. Completely and totally awe-inspiring.

In times of crises, the worst of our humanity is exposed: our greed, our fear, our anger. But so is the best of our humanity: our selflessness, our bravery, our compassion. And I believe that the good in humanity outweighs the bad in humanity, by at least an order of magnitude, if not more. At least this much is evident in our communal reaction so far:

For every person who carelessly goes to a packed bar, a dozen more people stand up to practice social distancing to ensure the safety of their loved ones and their community.

For every whistleblower silenced by an oppressive regime, thousands more people stand up to trumpet forward that whistleblower’s message.

And for every institution that fails, millions more people stand up to donate supplies, to provide support, and to comfort their fellow human beings.

I don’t know how many people will ultimately die from COVID-19. I don’t know how many will suffer, either physically from pneumonia and other complications or mentally from the loss of their loved ones to this virus. And I don’t know when this pandemic will end, and when everything will return to “normal,” if a complete return to normalcy is even still possible.

But I do know that we collectively have already shown an incredible, if not complete, commitment to community, solidarity, and love. I know that we will not only continue to do so, even in the darkest of times, but that we will also deepen this commitment. And I know that, together, we will weather this storm, as we have all the other prior storms that shook our world.

Now, let’s show this damn virus what we’re made of.

Chad Qian is a member of the MIT Class of 2020.