Calling Names, Sticking Labels, and Beyond

Posted on March 31, 2020

The Trump administration is referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” or the “Wuhan virus”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a recent G7 foreign ministers meeting, insisted on calling it the Wuhan virus, thus blocking hopes of a joint G7 statements, for the other foreign ministers refused to agree. The only reason for this labeling is to fuel the xenophobia that Trump and other GOP leaders thrive on. It is demonization. And the enemy is always “them”, never “us”.

According to WHO (the World Health Organization), viruses shouldn’t be named after cities and countries. This is meant to avoid international finger-pointing in a crisis, and avoid repeats of taxonomic debates as occurred a century ago with the so-called Spanish flu, which did not originate in Spain. Although the coronavirus is believed to have originated near Wuhan, that is no reason for naming it after the Chinese city.

Facts matter. Names matter. Words matter. Covid-19 is an appropriate name for a disease that manifested in 2019 and that is caused by a new strain of corona virus. Pandemic is an appropriate label for the spreading of a disease that is affecting all people (pan=all, demos=people).

Labels can also be dangerous. Calling the covid-19 disease a global awakening, a punishment for capitalism, a disease that is not worse than the common cold, just mass hysteria, insignificant when compared to the flu, an effect of electromagnetic radiation, etcetera, is all very unhelpful, just as calling the night the day is unhelpful.

The way we use names and labels reflects our worldview and reveals how we think, how we experience the world. Not all worldviews are equally healthy. A worldview that denies the value of expertise is profoundly unhelpful. A worldview that reveals our connection to the world and to others is healthier than a worldview that emphasizes and promotes disconnection. Loss of connection is trauma, being cut off from ourselves, our bodies, our families, our neighbours, the world around us.

Feeling our connection to life is the key to our well-being. So let us use words and names that highlight our connection to each other, words that emphasize togetherness. Let us call each other brother, sister, neighbour, friend, companion, fellow human. We are in this together, an us without a them. Let us not spend our energy on finding people or institutions to blame.

There is a deadly virus going around, and at present there is no known medicine, and no vaccine. What the experts are telling us is that covid-19 is spreading worldwide and that getting covid-19 may give us only mild symptoms but that it can also be significantly worse than getting the flu. What the experts are telling us is that we should do everything we can to get R0, the average number of further people that each infected person infects, below 1, so that the spreading of the virus will stop. What the experts are telling us is that we should stay home as much as possible. What the experts are telling us is that we can protect others and ourselves by washing our hands frequently and thoroughly. What the experts are telling us is that, for the time being, we should avoid physical contact with others as much as possible.

These are not easy messages. What is being asked of us is not easy. Staying home is a challenge for many of us, so here is a reminder. We all have our true home in Presence, in being with what is, in embracing what is unfolding for us right here and now. Pure being is beyond names and labels. Pure being just is.