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Covid-19 reveals human vulnerability

George Street in Sydney, one of the city’s busiest streets, is typically filled with tourists and workers. But since the pandemic, it’s become deserted. (Sarah Oh/YJI)

SYDNEY – A barren land with not a single voice but the whistle of the wind, the swivel of the leaves, the occasional chirps of the birds. The bustling Australian city of Sydney in just a few days has turned into a desolate place. Even the construction noise has died down.

The covid-19 pandemic has no doubt instigated fear and worry in our individual lives. However, it has also lent us an opportunity to grapple with the uncertainty and vulnerability within and around us.

Vulnerability is the discomfort we feel in situations where we are exposed and susceptible to shame and criticism. That piercing voice that says ‘you’re not good enough,’ ‘you can’t do it.’

It’s an electrifying fear inside that makes us restless for tomorrow.

Covid-19 has urged us to live with this vagueness to the greatest extent ever. We are all forced to shift from our daily routines to new platforms, jobs, and lifestyles. These changes carry profound uncertainties and doubts.

Eminent philosopher Alan W. Watts’ claim reverberates aptly. In his book The Wisdom of Insecurity, Watts asserts that we are so fixated with our past and future that we must really ask ourselves, are we living in the present world?

Watts’ words cannot be more true today. With headlines and regulations shifting every day, we are apprehensive about the uncertain tomorrow. Will the numbers die down? Will I be able to handle the new work? The new life? Tomorrow, will I be able to see my loved ones?

Our lack of consciousness and presence in the present world highlights our yearning for certainty. We want to know about what will happen — to have some degree of certitude about the factors upon us. As Watts states, the more we live in the real, present world, “the more we feel ignorant, uncertain, and insecure about everything.”

We are vulnerable beings, and covid only makes that more clear.

We are fragile. We are uncertain. Too often, we view vulnerability as a defect or flaw, and we often give up our hopes in face of it.

But New York Times bestselling author Brené Brown states in Daring Greatly, vulnerability is simultaneously the “birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” She argues that the more we embrace our own imperfections, our own sense of uncertainty, the more we can connect with others and live wholeheartedly.

When we recognize that we are prone to a multitude of ambiguities and quandaries, we cultivate more value and meaning.

It may seem like now that these ambiguities are determinantal to us. However, they urge us to lean closer to ourselves and, ultimately, each other. If we apply the notion of accepting vulnerability together as an individual, a community, a society, we will all learn to deepen our understanding of one another and live fully.

As Brown expounds, when we change our perspective and decide that our culture of vulnerability is actually the crux of courage, we build compassion and trust among ourselves. We grow when we recognize that our stories of audacity and meaningful connections all arise from vulnerability.

All the mistakes, the fears, the discomfort we feel will become emotions we appreciate and celebrate instead of shame.

Throughout this challenging period, if we take ownership of our vulnerability, we can share our fears and uncertainties with one another and build a stronger community. For instance, coronavirus online support groups have expanded to rekindle our societal connections.

Whether it is online forums or social media outlets, people are networking from all walks of life to alleviate this uncertainty that grips us; people are increasingly opening up and connecting with others with their concerns, fortifying the communal bond. In response to these conversations, diverse groups of people are cooperating together.

Whether they are the pharmaceutical industries striving globally to find a cure or simply neighbors delivering basic necessities to those who cannot get out, we are mobilizing our efforts on all scales to grow as a community.

There’s been nothing in history quite like covid-19 that’s made our relationships so close, yet our touch so far.

Borders have closed, yet we are so tied to one another. We are all battling the same intangible adversary. Instead of cowering back and worrying, we should take this as an opportunity — a communal opportunity — to wrestle with the unknown and lean into the vulnerability not only within us, but around us.

Sarah Oh is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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