The beginning of the year 2020 has been shaking and threatening humanity in what is daily becoming one of the most dangerous pandemics we have ever faced: the spread of Coronavirus or COVID-19. Epidemiological studies already carried out show that its dissemination speed is challenging. The global spread of the disease has been collapsing health systems in all countries, without exception, crowding intensive care units due to both the number of critically ill patients and the length of stay in the units. Patients with this disease occupy beds and specialized devices for longer than patients with other respiratory diseases. The disease does not yet have medication or vaccine, and medical care is targeted towards its most lethal symptom: breathing difficulty. The World Health Organization (WHO) has chosen prevention or social isolation as the main weapon against the pandemic, attenuating its rise, giving governments of different nations time to organize themselves to face this new health problem. Unprecedented in modern history, social isolation has been adopted in all countries (with the exception of health professionals and professionals in essential services such as food, energy etc.).
The economic difficulties associated with social isolation are obvious, but what about psychological difficulties? Why being isolated at home, alone or with family members, for 15 or even 30 days, has become so scary? Psychological studies on the challenges associated with medical quarantines or isolation due to contagious diseases show the appearance of symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress, episodes of anger and frustration, boredom and anxiety, in addition to fear and even panic. The fear of illness and death increases with the lack of clear information and consequent attitudes on the part of the authorities, thus increasing panic. Fear and panic are not caused only by pandemics or natural disasters. Psychological aspects exacerbate these experiences, i.e., these symptoms. Social isolation is an effective procedure (proven in practice), but knowing this effectiveness does not neutralize individual psychological problems.
Erich Fromm’s analysis of Being and Having is currently commonplace. In the mid-20th century, Fromm called attention to a change in societal attitude, showing that people were replacing Being with Having and that this was evidenced in the excessive and constant dedication to their consumption desires. We have reached the 21st century and this is getting stronger. People are defined by what they have, what they achieve, what they display. Existential propositions disappear, the goal is to achieve success, displaying brands and postures socially admitted as victorious. In this context of humanity replaced by reification, the COVID-19 pandemic appears. Having to stay isolated at home leads to the recognition of the fallen bridge: Doing as a link between Being and Having. In this sense, Doing is the viability of goals, it is walking into the future. In this scenario of social isolation, with people alone at home or living only with family members, everyday life aborts projects and holds off future successes, consequently creating frustration, anxiety, and fear.
The present is emptied when it is perceived as preparation, as a bridge to the future. For these people, the present experienced as a passage means nothing without its arrival (or goal) references. The race track only exists depending on the podium, the finish line. Prepared to reach a milestone, living in the expectation of future achievements, individuals feel lost, wasted, smashed by the experience between four walls. Losing the possibilities of displacing problems is an impasse, is stressful for neurosis, for the nonacceptance of oneself and the other. Losing this resource due to the obligation of isolation and socialization restricted to family members increase frustration, anxiety, and fears.
Substituting Being with Having privileges Doing, which is the road to achieve what is desired. Without this path, without direction, people get exhausted, they do not know what to do because they feel they have lost (or are threatened to lose) everything. The trap of considering everything as consumption, whether in terms of needs or availability, empties the individual, which, in general, becomes another commodity to be manipulated and consumed by the holders of power, the owners of capital.
The great upheaval that can arise is the perception of Doing in the context of Being, generating questioning and transformation. The continuity of the perception of Doing in the context of Having will keep people submissive, annihilated by the dictates of consumerism and pragmatic orders such as sacrificing individuals who have already produced, the retired ones, to save the young population. That is the world of Having, corroborated by the advantage, the convenience, the nonsolidarity justified by the crisis, the lack of beds, and the general unproductiveness, where the currently nonproductive must be discarded so that others can grow and society and economy can flourish.
Being is the only way for humanity. In the context of Having, all that remains is to live for a goal, so that any stone falling from the sky, any obstacle on the way is totally destructive. When the individual takes a stand, when he/she limits himself/herself to pragmatic and contingent objectives - Having - he/she becomes manipulated by conglomerates, by orders that dehumanize, being led to Do and thus becoming a cog in the system. It is the classic “work sets you free” (“Arbeit macht frei”) from concentration camps, not to mention the Soviet Gulags, as well as North American, European, and Latin American cities.
Difficult and unexpected situations enable coping or panic, everything will depend on whether the individual is whole or divided in experiencing the present moment, which even when threatening can enable participation and courage. Any unforeseen circumstance harms and disturbs those who are committed to divisions. Availability and wholeness are necessary to face the unexpected, experiencing the present moment without divisions, without considering what is next.