PANDEMIC AND PRACTICE: LANGUAGE
by Wayne Ren Cheng Shi
Is calling it social distancing the most effective use of language? Pragmatically isn’t physical distancing what is really needed?
Social distancing can send the wrong signal to the bodymind. A signal to stop all social contact. To not only physically isolate, but to actually socially isolate; which are two very different actions. The first can protect us from the transmission of the corona virus, physical isolation. In the minds of some people social distancing, especially in this time of fear and anxiety caused by the novel corona virus might be interpreted as not having any sort of contact with others, physical or otherwise. This may be only a few people but in a Buddhist practice these are the sorts of karmic consequences we must be aware of and discern a Way to avoid the suffering of even a few people if at all possible.
The corona virus pandemic is the cause of a lot of fear and anxiety right now. It is suffering on a humanity wide scale. It is experiential proof of the validity of the first Noble Truth, if you still need that proof. Language impacts how people think and act is a time of crisis. It is important that language reveals the reality of the situation and what is needed, no used to instill higher levels of fear and anxiety.
The coronavirus is not our enemy, it is a phenomena of nature. It is not a Chinese virus, it is a world virus. This is not a national nightmare, it is a health phenomena that will be dealt with. Perhaps this language is thought to drive people toward the mandated action but it does so through fear, anxiety and intimidation. Isn’t the very fact of the virus’ existence and consequences enough to produce wholesome thoughts and actions without resorting to fear mongering? The war themed language doesn’t reduce the already rising fear and anxiety about the virus, yet it can exponentially increase it. The language affects how we think and that directly affects how we act. Negative language leads to negative action. We need more positive language. That positive language could start with using the word emergency instead of war. This is a health emergency. It is not a war.
Listen to voices you have come trust. Be a voice that others can trust.