The company we keep is of utmost importance. The Buddha knew it and stressed it way back when. Many other wise women and men have known it.
But now, when loneliness have become a pandemic far more deadly than the one we are currently busy trying to deal with, just keeping company at all, might be even more crucial.
We influence each other. We have the power to bring each other down, but also to raise each other up.
Just look at how different cultures are from one another? The Maasai people live radically different from most of us here in Berlin.
I moved to New York City in 1994. I was 22. At that time in my life I wasn't very aware. Sure, I had been involved in politics (socialist, anti-Apartheid/anti-racism), and had discovered feminism. I had also rejected the 'cultural Christianity' I had grown up with, left the Swedish church I was born into, and proclaimed myself an atheist.
But environmentalism was definitely not on my radar.
Even so, I was absolutely chocked at how wasteful American society was. At first I was overwhelmed by the choices in the corner stores. While in Sweden a refrigerator stocking drinks at that time had maybe offered max ten different juices and sodas (water was not sold, what for? You could get it for free from any tap) while in New York I had a wall of options, including over ten brands of bottled water in different sizes of plastic. And then there were the sandwiches I would buy at the local deli. While a cheese sandwich at a café in my homeland would feature one slice of cheese on buttered bread, with a few slices of cucumbers riding on top, my American cheese sandwich featured so many slices of cheese, plus thick slabs of mayonnaise as well as iceberg lettuce, watery slices of genetically modified tomato and cucumber, that it was hard to even open the mouth up wide enough to take a bite.
Whenever I would go in to the 24-hour 'Korean Deli' around the corner from my house to buy a Diet Pepsi ( now I'm horrified at how many I drank back then), the clerk would put the can in a paper bag along with a few napkins and a straw.
At the grocery store, if I bought fifteen items, I would get five double bags with three groceries in each. In Sweden at that time, we already had to pay for plastic bags and fifteen groceries would easily fit into one non-double.
On the streets of Manhattan, people were walking around on the streets clutching plastic water bottles at all time, it seemed. And they walked down the street eating pizzas and even Chinese food from little white paper boxes.
But it didn't take long before I accepted the double-bagging, the huge Deli sandwiches. Before I knew it, also I was buying water and walking down the street eating pizza slices and noodles. The several napkins and straw and paper bag for the can of soda I could somehow never accept though.
It got worse. When I was in grad school, and I was commuting half an hour to my pristine liberal arts college north of the city, I became a regular at Starbucks at Grand Central, getting huge to-go cups of Soy lattes and bagels wrapped in plastic.
I was shopping heaps of fast fashion at high street purveyors like H&M and Forever 21, never once thinking about why this clothing was so cheap, and how, and by whom it was made. A sequin top for ten dollars to wear at one party and maybe never again, seemed normal.
And then later, driving a gas-guzzling pick-up truck seemed normal. Getting healthy food from Whole Foods wrapped in insane amounts of plastic seemed normal.
And then, in 2007, I moved back to Sweden, and Sweden had changed. There were way more choices in shops, and way more shops, way more shopping malls. Fast fashion was everywhere. Home electronics mega stores like Mediamarkt had spread like a virus. Now also Swedish people were walking down the street eating, drinking coffee in to-go cups and clutching plastic water bottles.
I moved to Germany in 2009 and shortly after that I became vegan ( for full disclosure these days I'm vegan-ish only, kind of against my own ethics). I am an avid recycler. I buy mostly second hand. I no longer have a gas-guzzling truck or any other vehicle than my bicycles for that matter. I have chosen not to have children, largely because of the strain procreation is on the planet. But still, I was and I am, over-consuming. I am exploiting the planet's resources.
Because it's been so damn normalised! In our society it's normal to buy clothing just for fun, not because you need it. It's normalised to eat for fun, not because we are hungry. It's normalised that food items that previously was sold in paper or glass (and even longer ago, in bulk) now come packaged with plastic.
It's normalised and even glamourised, to jet off on weekend trips here and there, fly across the globe to Asia, to North America, to Africa.
The company we keep. The society we live in. The beliefs, norms and ideas we take on as our own.
And then Covid-19 came. It's not the first pandemic in the history of humanity, and it won't be the last. I feel sorry for all of those who've lost a loved one, and especially if the circumstances seemed less than dignified. I am also sorry for everyone who've lost their job, their income, their business. I, too, have taken a huge financial blow with this. But I am seeing this as an opportunity to change my ways, to re-evaluate how I can live in more harmony with nature.
And maybe there's a great opportunity for all of us here? We've seen pollution, air and noise alike, drop drastically. There's been reports of dolphins swimming in Venice.
We've seen the planet recover somewhat. Perhaps this virus has managed to slow the climate change down a bit?
Maybe we've gotten better at cooking or some other skill we've wanted to learn? Or maybe we've gotten a chance to think long and hard about what truly matters?
This could be a chance for us to influence each other to live better with less.
Perhaps this is an opportunity to change society's norms so that such wasteful behaviour that most of us have engaged in, first become uncool, then obsolete?
I don't want to go back to life as we knew it.