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Looking back on 2020 with grinding teeth

We have had an eventful year. A year with lots of ups and downs. Many people are now a bit “corona-tired”. Besides a lot of misery, fortunately a lot of beautiful things have happened. It is fascinating to see how each person reacts in his or her own way to the events of the world. It is important to realize that we as human beings do not get upset by things themselves, but rather by the way we look at things.

How do we look at a situation?

From psychology, we know how the same situation can evoke a different feeling in each person. When I think back to my own son, I remember how he had the greatest fun when he was washed down by a big wave. At the same time, the same wave managed to scare another child so much, that he walked back to his mother crying. As we can see, the situation for both children is the same. The wave washed them both over, but the way they looked at this event differed. It was not the wave that triggered their different reactions, but the children’s different view of the wave. So it goes with the COVID-19 wave that washes over us. And so, it has been with the wave of epidemics and pandemics that have passed for us over the decades.

How do pandemics come to an end?

Recently a team of BBC journalists visually mapped how since ancient times our ancestors have been engulfed by pandemics. From their BBC contribution How do pandemics end? it can be inferred that the pandemic in our generation, however serious, still comes off mildly compared to, for example, bubonic plague with some 200 million deaths, smallpox with at least 350 million deaths and cholera with at least 40 million deaths. But also, influenza, which to this day kills some 650,000 people each year and HIV/AIDS, with some 32.7 million deaths since the beginning of that epidemic. The largest pandemics have killed hundreds of millions of people over time. The BBC article not only puts into perspective the state of the world we experience today. It also makes it clear that most pathogens that have paralysed societies in the past still exist. As the crises passed, many viruses and bacteria persisted, and with them, the resulting infections. Life and death are always connected. For this, man will have to formulate an answer within himself on how to come to terms with this fact.

How will we later look back on 2020?

Dr. Johan Mackenbach, Professor of Social Health at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, shared in his recent retirement speech that he expects future generations to admire our decisiveness and solidarity in the corona year 2020. However, he expects that we will also be looked with some wryness because of the high costs, the previously ignored warnings and the limited inclusivity in our thinking and actions. Mackenbach has made a calculation showing that a country like the Netherlands is estimated to pay around 160,000 euros to secure every healthy year of life. Sources in other countries come up with similar figures. Insiders know that this amount is significantly higher than would normally be allowed in the health care system when developing a new vaccination or even a new cancer drug. Mackenbach notes how we knew in advance that the current pandemic would happen in our lifetime. “We could have done more to prevent the jumping of viruses from wild animals to us by closing the ‘wet markets’ in Asia. We could have done more to prevent the spread through better warning systems, and a faster blockade of certain travel routes. We could have prepared better by working out less invasive lockdown scenarios and by stockpiling protective materials. And we could have strengthened the Public Health infrastructure, instead of scaling down as happened after the massive cuts post-financial crisis in 2008,” said Mackenbach, who hopes that the huge “willingness for payments” during the pandemic will also apply to measures to prevent a recurrence. Last but not least, Mackenbach foresees that future generations will realize even better than we are, how much the high expenditure during the COVID-19 pandemic was also necessary for other, ultimately more important issues, such as climate policy and the preservation of biodiversity. “The grinding of teeth can only be prevented if this crisis is used to accelerate rather than delay the transition to a sustainable society,” says Mackenbach.

Sustainable development goals

A transition to a sustainable society requires a better balance between our own interests, including the health interests of all other life on earth. This requires us to think more inclusively in the world of pubic health and to use our ingenuity for what is called planetary health. With Professor Mackenbach, I express the wish that we will succeed together. I am proud to work for Eurapco, which with all its mutual partners has decided to put sustainability high on the agenda. In fact, five of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals are anchored at a strategic level to help make the world a better place from all member organizations. I think each of us has a piece of the solution. Every person has their own unique talents. I am convinced that if each person in his or her own environment does something that someone else can get along with, then changes can happen quickly. Every human has a piece of unfulfilled potential. There’s a lot more possible than we think. Let’s not be fooled by fear stories. Together we can build and connect bridges. If you believe in that, you’re already on your way. I see more and more people and organizations that are tackling COVID-19 doing things that were not possible before. Let us use the painful and difficult aspects of 2020 together to make something beautiful in 2021.  
The worst thing in my life was the most beautiful thing that could happen to me – Lenny Kuhr (singer/songwriter)

Pain and sorrow

The path of my life, as with most other people, was not walking over roses. For example, I lost my sister at too young an age. A very painful experience. In the meantime, I can look back and see that the death of my sister has also given me the enrichment to be extra there in this life for her children. I once read a statement by Lenny Kuhr, former winner of the Eurovision Song Contest: “The worst thing in my life was the most beautiful thing that could happen to me”. I recognize myself in her statement. Cutting through all the pain and grief is always room for new perspectives. If you dare to look in that place, your life changes. Is all the pain, sorrow and suffering gone? No. Has it overcome death? No. Does it add a new dimension to your life? Yes!

LIVE with capital letters

You do not hear from me that life’s going to be okay. You also don’t hear that the current pandemic is not so bad. However, I challenge you and myself to live more in the here and now. To realize on a deeper level that we are indeed not upset by the things themselves, but by the way we look at them. Fear has become a lucrative business model for many journalists or politicians. If we continue to look at the events in the world around us from the perspective of fear, we become paralyzed, tired and all energy runs away. What is the alternative? To live life, to embrace with all the pluses and minuses. Or as Joris Vincken invites us with the following argument “Life is deadly!” to embrace the whole life and “dance, cry, love, get angry, bore you, make love and laugh”. I wish you to live life to the full, together with all who are so dear to you! Merry Christmas, and already an inspiring 2021 in every way!  
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Life is deadly!

Research shows that almost everyone who is born, dies. The relationship between birth and death is not yet fully known, but some sort of connection is now generally accepted. There is even talk of a worldwide epidemic. Scientists recommend to celebrate life as much as possible, fully embracing the richness of every moment. Don’t let it get you down, but use the time between birth and death to tell each other and especially yourself how magical you are. A researcher from the scientific bureau noted that it is not just how many years there are in your life, but how much life in your years. As long as no cure or vaccine has been found, it is recommended to dance, cry, love, get angry, be bored, make love and laugh. Grind your bare feet in the mud, get lost, find yourself and keep singing in the rain. This doesn’t make life less deadly, but for sure a lot more alive!  


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