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April 21, 2020

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Heroes redefined after epidemic

How will the current fight against the coronavirus likely affect our lives in the days to come? To a renowned philosopher from Fudan University, it will probably change people’s idea about who’s a hero.

“For a long time (before the pandemic), young people admired business elites,” Wang Defeng, a professor of philosophy at the prestigious university, said last week. “I believe the time will be over when they were worshipped as heroes.”

In an interview with Yicai, a leading business news outlet, Wang said “true heroes” are those ordinary people who step forward bravely in the face of a disaster. From doctors and nurses who rushed to save lives in epidemic areas to deliverymen who brought meals to hospitals, Wang said he had “witnessed a greater love of our nation, an ability of our nation to save herself, and a hopeful prospect of our nation as demonstrated in our lives.”

“Certainly, business elites are also heroes, if they’re socially responsible,” Wang said. “Otherwise, they’re no more than achievers in the commercial arena.”

For quite some time, he said, this spirit of greater love had somehow been lost to many who single-mindedly pursued so-called career success or competitive achievement. “But success should never mean how high a position or income you’ve got,” he explained. “The ultimate measure of your life is how meaningfully it has been lived.”

Economic growth certainly matters, he said, but our society all the more needs a prevailing morality that puts people first. Mao Shengyong, spokesman of the National Bureau of Statistics, said last week that many lives had been saved and myriad possible infections had been avoided, despite short-term economic costs. In fighting the coronavirus, he said, people’s interests and health were the top concern of the nation.

Humanitarian spirit

Economic activities vary from time to time. As history shows, short-term difficulties will eventually be overcome. And now, China’s overall economy remains resilient, buoyed by basically stable employment and faster growth of new industries, among other things. Whatever challenges we face now, we can only emerge stronger because of our humanitarian spirit.

What has made me and many of my fellow countrymen shed tears during the epic fight against the rare epidemic is the spirit of sacrifice shining from so many ordinary Chinese people. It’s good conscience at work, free from the shackles of utilitarianism.

By good conscience is meant something innate in us that enables us to do good for others, unruffled by mundane calculations of gain or loss. In China and elsewhere, heroic deeds of doctors, nurses and volunteers abound.

The hard-hit New York State had called upon retired medical professionals to return to the front line to help fight the coronavirus. Within a few days, more than 80,000 doctors and nurses, as well as volunteers from across the US, had actively answered the call, Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.

In the words of British philosopher, logician and essayist Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), this humane concern for others translates into a passionate “pity for the suffering of mankind.” It actually hearkens back to Mencius’ idea of vicarious pity for the pains of others.

“May we all learn to care more for each other, while we still have the time,” said Greg Cusack, a retired congressman from Iowa, in a letter to Shanghai Daily. He was commenting on a latest news photo taken at Tampa General Hospital, Florida.

“This powerful and beautiful photo, taken by a fellow nurse, shows a married couple — both nurses — in a very touching moment.” They were hugging each other’s face, dressed tight in protective suits.

Another married American couple — both medical professionals — have written a will in advance, Xinhua reported in a Sunday article. The mother said she wanted her little kids to know that their mom had tried her best, in case they lost her to the coronavirus. She and her husband wrote the will because they were ready to sacrifice their lives, said Xinhua.

My hats off to the true heroes and heroines in every “battlefield.”


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