They burst into our daily lives and, from one moment to the next, became the most repeated words in our vocabulary. Pandemic. Virus. Confinement. Fear. Contagion. Distancing. Death. Before the search engines choose these words as the most popular of 2020, Vogue gets ahead and proposes a more humane, and more unifying, concept, to stay as a memory of this year that is still halfway through: the concept of empathy. It is written on the walls of all the streets we have not been walking. The answer to Love is more Love.
All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hands to left or right,
And emptiness above -
Know that you aren’t alone.
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.
All You Who Sleep Tonight, Vikram Seth
In the past few months, while half the planet has decided to declare war on COVID-19, a small country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean has taken a different approach. New Zealand, isolated from the rest of the world for its peculiar geography, chose a strategy where the emphasis was on respect, understanding, empathy. Instead of proclaiming the fight against the new coronavirus through warlike metaphors, the country defined a message that urged its inhabitants to unite against COVID-19. More than once, Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern referred to the nation as "our team of five million". More than once, she stressed the importance of total confinement that began long before any other state. The results are clear: with few deaths per capita and a small number of infected people, the country is slowly starting to return to normal. And it does so with a sense of mission accomplished. Because suffering, and pain, which are always the greatest collateral damages in any pandemic, have been eliminated. At the expense of a very old, very old school feeling. The idea of "we are stronger together."
Words matter. We depend on them to communicate, to convey our feelings, to express ourselves. But words are not easy to use. Words are not easy to choose - quite the contrary. As we often realize, words can be weapons. Words hurt. The words provoke hurt. Stuck in this storm of emotions that is our daily life, we don't always have time to think about the things we say, how we say them, and what the consequences of that speech will be - no matter how good or bad it is. There are no acts that are worth a thousand words, nor vice versa. Our history is a whole, which depends on continuous decisions, which are interconnected, today, tomorrow, afterwards. It was no different during this pandemic, it will be no different afterwards. Perhaps we can take a moment and think about how all of these new words that we now use lightly can affect the world - and other people; take a step back and see if it would be possible to give new meanings to "fear", "contagion", "virus", "quarantine", "disease". Do we need to repeat them until exhaustion? Do we really have to insist on the less good side and ignore the better side? Is there an alternative, an escape, a path, that we can follow, instead of focusing on what makes us increasingly distant, scared, terrified?
What would it be like if we put ourselves in someone else's body for a moment? It would be empathy. Because, in the face of "distance", "death", "confinement" and all those words that we now repeat as something "normal", only the notion of empathy could provide an answer. And that response is somehow a message of love. Often, we take certain reactions for granted, when we can neither express our desire nor, our will. We often anticipate “no” when we expect “yes” and, through fear, we provoke “neem”. We often put words where there are silences, we put exclamation points where there should be an ellipsis, we find the end of the line where there was only one stop, we caused disturbances to stroke the noise that scares us - and the noise was, after all, just fireworks. The world is a giant place, inhabited by human beings, all with different life experiences. The place where we all meet to make this world a better place is empathy. May this, and no other, be the most important word of 2020.