What Next?

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The title of my last column was What If? I suggested that the most important thing about COVID-19 is that it provides an opportunity for us to learn a powerful lesson.  Mainly, that it is so important for us to care for ourselves and one another as the brothers and sisters that we are… one humanity.  We all share the same DNA and ultimately we all come from the same source.  In spite of all the attention on Covid,  the threat to our planet is much greater than that of Covid.  We must radically alter our impact on the planet if our children and their children are to have a chance at life.

George FloydWhat next?  Since the last Flagstone,  we have seen events that have added a whole new dimension to the challenges that face us.  On May 25th George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. Three “fellow” officers looked on, helping to hold him down, not stopping the victim’s heinous treatment. Since video release of that event, protests and the focus of Black Lives Matter have erupted not just in the US but world wide. Canada has certainly not escaped from being complicit in systemic racism not just towards black but towards indigenous people as well. The injustices towards these people go back centuries.  It is easy to forget the injustices against these people who are now referred to as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour).  These injustices include the loss of their land, the outlawing of their culture, and almost wiping out their population entirely.

Here’s an analogy to describe what these times require of us :

Pretend that we are making a new dish to eat. The ingredients include love for ourselves, love for our neighbours (relatives, friends, and even enemies), and active love for our planet.  Facing our systemic justice is the call to add another “essential” ingredient; a huge amount of care for those who have been mistreated over the centuries. The recovery from the pandemic is not one that just includes what is good for our planet. It must be a Just Recovery.  A recovery that going forwards, respects the equal rights of every human being.   Those of us with relative wealth and privilege must reevaluate what we have come to experience and adhere to as normal. “Normal” must  be attainable and sustainable for those who have been treated unjustly in the past!  All citizens of our planet deserve an equal share of respect and resources.  The shift must come from those with supposed “privilege.” This of course is no easy task.

However, as we are seeing throughout the world, people are demanding equal treatment and opportunity. No longer should they be bearing the brunt of disease (blacks are getting and dying proportionately more from COVID), receiving less or inferior treatment, or be given less opportunity to be educated and employed and promoted fairly. Perhaps these victims of injustice hold a valuable “key” to the solution. There is so much to be learned from the way many in BIPOC communities care for each other despite their poverty, inadequate housing and limited opportunities.

So while my focus began about Climate Change and COVID-19, it has become clear that there are bigger, societal issues that we need to face at the same time in order to have a Just Recovery.  In the words of Masiri Ujiri, President of the Toronto Raptors, “This is a moment for everybody to look at themselves in the mirror and ask “who are you as a person””.  I would add, how will we truly respond to these events of the past 3 months?  We shifted our lifestyles and daily routines to respond to Covid.  Will we do the same to respond to the climate crisis and systemic injustice?  Even though climate change and systemic racism and injustice do not appear to impact or threaten us as directly as the pandemic?

In the last week we have heard about another What Next?  In case you missed It;  we learned that more people in BC died from unintended overdoses in the month of May (170) than have died in BC due to COVID-19. Yes, we have an opioid epidemic that has been going on now since 2011 and was declared an emergency in 2016.  All told, the deaths have totalled in the thousands. The number of deaths in May stands out as the largest number of deaths ever recorded in one month in BC. Yes, there have been deaths in the Comox Valley as well. This is indeed a complicated problem and the solutions are not easy or simple. However it is most definitely connected to systemic injustice and racism. This ongoing crisis also forces us to examine our beliefs as individuals and as a society.  What actions can we take to make a difference? So let’s engage together in these issues and not just let them pass by without asking ourselves what we can do to make a difference.  Who knows what will happen next?

Dr. Ron