Every society has its shadow. And I am not talking about the sewers of the state, which also belong to it. I am talking about suffering, illness, social inequalities, poverty, and loneliness, among other things. To lessen the burden of the shadow, various mechanisms are created: social assistance, health care, unemployment insurance, and other aids … which are often not enough for those who have the worst of it.
As a family physician, I often find that the health problems that patients tell me about are mixed up with their psychological and emotional difficulties, which in turn intersect with employment, economic and social difficulties, which in turn include ethical, existential, or credential components. The population comes to the health services with its vital catastrophe or its difficulty. But what to do when the problem is that no one has cooked a meal for the elderly person living alone? Who cooks the omelet?
And the result is that health professionals spend several hours a week making omelets, which further overloads an already overstretched schedule.
The avalanche of social, psychological, and existential problems coming our way is enormous, and I don’t see much reflection, dialogue, or preparation for it. Health professionals because we are in a state of permanent shock, politicians because they are going about their business and do not like thorny issues, and citizens because they are running around like headless chickens behind their respective screens.
In Japan, they have just created a Ministry of Loneliness: Let’s see how long it takes to set it up here.
Unwanted loneliness is toxic, and so is getting everyone to “go their own way” in a society. Caring for others is not only an ethical and moral priority but a vital one. We can only survive with others; without a neighbor, we are nobody. Our neighbor builds and sustains us; it is only fair that we do the same with him.
That is why it is good to remember Franz Jalics: “Under performance pressure, we do not perceive our neighbor correctly.”
We cannot let environmental pressure, and the pressure that each of us generates on ourselves, dehumanize us. The greatest challenge we face is not pandemics or climate change but the real possibility of ceasing to be human.
Salvador Casado is a family physician in Spain.
Image credit: Salvador Casado