Beneath our current obsession over the national and international daily death tolls from COVID-19, or whether we’ve got adequate supplies of test kits and PPE, or even whether the current reproduction rates (R0 ) show that we’ve got infection rates down to acceptable levels – beneath the entire focus of the pandemic as a calamitous event – there is a silent revolution taking place, without much fanfare with far more lasting impact than this year’s coronavirus strain.
That revolution is a major sea change in our values that has occurred as a direct result of our attempts to contain this virus. Our lockdowns may or may not be effective in lowering fatalities, but what we cannot contain is how it is changing us – and massively for the better.
A few weeks ago, I read about a number of CEOs, including the UK’s boss of Nationwide Building Society, voluntarily slashing their huge salaries to show solidarity with the workers.
People like Joe Garner, chief executive of Nationwide, the UK’s largest building society, who cut his pay and pension by a fifth, plus refused any bonus that would have been due to him for the current financial year – a pay reduction that amounts to some £228,000.
In the US, major CEOs have gone even further. The executives of Airbnb, Disney’s Executive Chairman Bob Iger, the CEO of Marriott and the cofounders of Lyft are just a few of the chief execs who are foregoing their salaries altogether, as are the CEOS of a number of airlines. The top five comcast executives have decided to donate their salaries to charity.
The pandemic has achieved what the banking crisis of 2008 could not: the beginnings of a return to a moral center among the business elite.
Many celebrities are being publicly shamed for attempting to equate their own bird-in-a-gilded-cage lockdown experiences with those of the ordinary public. Madonna recently was forced to withdraw a photo of herself nude in a bathtub showing off her black roots and suggesting that the virus was somehow ‘a great leveler.'
A recent article in the Atlantic magazine singled out a recent group A-lister effort to sing John Lennon’s famous Imagine:
As the Atlantic noted: ‘The Wonder Woman actor Gal Gadot rang up a famous crew including Natalie Portman, Jamie Dornan, Sia, Pedro Pascal, Zoë Kravitz, Sarah Silverman, Leslie Odom Jr, Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Norah Jones, and Cara Delevingne to record clips of themselves singing lyrics about a world without war or possessions.’
As the Atlantic noted icily: ‘Most of these people are not vocal talents; most of them very much enjoy that we live in a world of possessions. Literally and figuratively tone-deaf, edited with the finesse of a middle schooler making a vacation slideshow on 2002 software, this “Imagine” somehow made a global pandemic feel even more hopeless than it already does.’
Faced with the seismic change in all our lives right now, the pronouncements of the rich and famous seem far less important now. As the Atlantic magazine concluded: The celebrities definitely, definitely are not in charge right now.’
Compare those clumsy but ultimately pointless efforts with those of Captain Tom Moore. Captain Tom was 99 at the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, a retired Royal Airforce Pilot who had fought in World War II.
Captain Tom just had a hip replacement and walks at the moment hunched over with a walker, but even at his great age, he wanted to do something for his country’s National Health Service heroes. He figured that he was going to turn 100 in April, so he’d try to raise some money for the NHS Charities Together by walking the length of his backyard 100 times.
Slowly but surely, he pushed along in his walker, hoping to raise at least £1000.
In the event, Captain Tom raised more than £28 million – and still counting. As a result, he was approached to record a new version of You’ll Never Walk Alone with singer Michael Ball and the NHS Voice of Care Choir.
The single promptly went to number 1.
The message is resonating deep within us. Many of us are starting to ask just what Captain Tom asked: “What can I do? How can I help?”
It’s as though we all have just been reminded of a favorite, half-forgotten tune.
Yes, this is it, we’re beginning to say: this is what it means to be a human being.