Our society is ill, and this is how we cure it.

Use your quarantine to reflect. As everything we have grown used to is suddenly disrupted by the coronavirus, society has a unique opportunity to address other social challenges, argues Bouke van Balen - columnist at journalism platform Red Pers - from his student room in Amsterdam.


"Honestly, a period of quarantine would be quite convenient for me. ”


"True. Finally some rest. It’s a good excuse for not doing anything, really. ”


"... without feeling guilty about it. That’s new. ”


"Especially that no one is trying to one-up you."


I overheard conversations like the one described above more than once, and also heard myself thinking it. Apparently, a national health crisis is needed to legitimize some much-needed rest. ‘Do everything you can because anything is possible’ has become part of our DNA. We are not allowed to do nothing, unless we have a damn good reason for it.


The virus gives us that reason. But maybe there is a way to make use of this period and address other challenges we face in our societies. As the virus breaks through social patterns, it is the perfect occasion to reconsider, and eventually reshape, these patterns.

Therefore, I call for reflection and present a number of proposals we can look at when we feel recovered.


Photo by David van Bartel


First of all, people should stop pressuring themselves and others to perform. Just don’t do anything for once. Share that on Instagram, instead of your yoga teacher training which you are following next to your four student jobs. We put too much pressure on each other. If it takes a pandemic for you to relax, you must have been ill yourself for a long time.


Second, we should be putting a stop to flexible contracts and questionable self-employment agreements. Thousands of people are suddenly without income because their employers aren’t required to pay them. This shows exactly why we need collective labor agreements. It’s time to unite.


Third, people working in the health care sector should receive a wage increase. And should be allowed to go on a subsidised holiday of three months. These people work around the clock to keep our societies running, which leaves them with little time to stand up for their rights. They love their job so much that they would even do it for free. They deserve more than that.


Fourth, let's restore our trust in scientists and experts. These are the people that are guiding us through this crisis, because they know what they are talking about. Scientists tend to do that: have well-founded knowledge. I’d rather listen to Dutch virologist Jaap van Dissel, the director National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, than Gers Pardoel (a Dutch rapper singing about taking a girl home on the backseat of your bike, yes he is that Dutch). Gers says that all we have to do to combat the virus, is to hug each other lovingly. With the same logic I’d rather believe reports issued by the IPCC than Dutch politician Thierry Baudet who says climate change is a hoax.


Fifth, be kind to one another, from a safe distance. Live by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's words: "Let's keep our distance today, to embrace each other even more tomorrow." When a crisis hits, we turn out to be quite good at this (not minding the hoarding). Let's try to continue that way. I am convinced we are capable of doing that without a crisis too.


Our society is ill. We have become a patient who can only be cured if we come together. As we try to cure our society of COVID-19, let's also address the other illnesses.


This story was shared by Bouke van Balen, a student of neuropsychology and philosophy at University of Amsterdam. His story originally appeared on Red Pers, an Amsterdam-based journalistic development-platform and a partner of #spreadstoriesnotthevirus.

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