Wisdom of new education needed for living in the post-COVID-19 era:

With a crisis coming, we must change our thinking

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Written by Yeong-Mahn You, knowledge ecologist and professor at Hanyang University

The COVID-19 situation is continuing longer than expected. Another factor adding to the anxiety is the prediction that we will experience the surge of viruses similar to COVID-19 more frequently. In preparation for these difficult situations, experts in all sectors are moving to predict the post-COVID-19 era through a variety of media channels. However, every prediction may be merely the landscape of the future seen through one particular lens. The best choice that we can make here and now is to calmly look back on our arrogance and mistakes while reflecting on our lives to date and doing some soul-searching. To do this, there is nothing but to arm ourselves with a completely different view of the world through ecological self-awareness and self-examination. This is certainly the time when we must reflect realistically upon the ways that we have lived thus far and sincerely ponder how we can make truly human life through education.

First, education should be the principal agent of revolution that facilitates the process of transformation into ecological self-awareness, self-examination, and a new view of the world. One of the principal tasks of education is to create an awakening incident through a different kind of enlightenment. The theme that our education must create most emphatically at this point is to fundamentally change our way of thinking into a completely different view of the world through ecological self-awareness and self-examination. Ecological self-awareness means that humans must reflect on their lives and awaken by looking into the way that other creatures live within the ecosystem. My small behaviors can directly affect the myriad of creatures living all around me. An individual is not an independently existing entity, but is a part of a vast network bonded by solidarity. There are phrases in Eula Biss’s “On Immunity: An Inoculation” that state, “We are each other’s environment. Immunity is a shared space–a garden we tend together.” The reason that we, who function as each other’s environment, must heed immunity individually is that the group’s health can be affected on top of individual health. In looking into the interdependent relationship that the ecosystem where creatures live through ecological sensibility has with the human world and stimulating ecological imagination, we need education to emphasize that this is a beautiful community where all of us live together.

Second, there is a need to seek and suggest individual awakening and prospects, and a direction pursuing new values through education. Since the coronavirus situation was at its worst, I have become greatly absorbed in reading the books that I like best and writing books. Time is divided into “Chronos”, meaning physical time that passes naturally, and “Kairos”, meaning time to which special significance is accorded. People who have time to be obliged to do something are those who pass the physical Chronos time given to everyone equally, while people who make time to do something intentionally are those who pass the subjective and psychological Kairos time. The world is changed by those who create the Kairos time rather than the Chronos time. Even if the same physical time passes, it is an unprecedented time of new creation to someone. People who are passing the Kairos time do not study someone’s face, nor do they look at themselves by mirroring the valuation standards set unilaterally by society. Rather, they enjoy the process of creating something while trying to be immersed in the pleasant talent or aptitude that they find interesting for themselves. There needs to be an educational foundation through which one can reflect on and do soul-searching to find what prompts the self today to be better than the self of yesterday, forecasting a life different from that so far and pursuing different values.

Third, there is a need to establish and foster a new human character that respects interpersonal differences. It is commonly known that experts are those who dig more deeply rather than more broadly. While trying to dig deeper, the chances are slim that they encounter other depths, and risk being be buried under a well of their own digging. This is why experts who try only to dig deeper are shunned. Experts without depth are shunned, but so are those who seek only depth. To overcome this problem, experts should come forward to meet other experts frequently while keeping their distance to respect their differences and look for the possibility of gathering and doing something together. Experts who notice the differences among experts and create unconventional professionalism by amalgamating different specialties are called “Homo Differance”. “Differance” is a concept newly created by French philosopher Jacques Derrida to explain another kind of difference, one that is unexplainable through “difference” in English, by looking at the temporal and spatial difference. Homo Differance is an expert in differences who makes good relations between Homo sapiens, or wise individuals. The difference existing between them is a driving force that makes you and me, who are different from yesterday, to become different by repeating the difference from yesterday. Education in the future should focus on the direction that leads to new creation by respecting and amalgamating the differences existing among experts through the nurturing of Homo Differance.

Fourth, there is a need to put emphasis on empirical insight and intuition so that education can mediate the process of acquiring practical wisdom to be created from this. This is the time to reexamine humans’ arrogant blind faith in the basic science that made it possible to change the future at will by accurately predicting and controlling social phenomenon as well as natural phenomenon by dint of human-made science and arm ourselves now with new wisdom. There are still many things even humans cannot do, and there is a need for humility to think of science as only part of the academic achievements that imperfect human beings have made. Now is the time for Aristotle’s practical wisdom (phronesis) enabling one to ethically contemplate and judge what is the best policy that you can do here and now for the common good, emerging from the extreme egoism of thinking about individual interest and safety first, before acting boldly. Practical wisdom is an intuitive wisdom that requires you to deeply ponder what actions are fulfilled properly in a Catch-22 situation but decide boldly and act based on quick judgment. In this respect, practical wisdom is a survival skill required of all of us to endure the COVID-19 situation in these uncertain times. Practical wisdom is also an intuitive insight enabling one to seek the best option from an objective point of view at a distance while sympathizing with the sufferings of others. Practical wisdom is certainly an empirical wisdom that can be acquired only through agonizing practices in the grey zone.

Finally, education must support the process of building a happy community in which we can live together through human trust and solidarity. Whether we meet via connection or contact, solidarity and communities built based on human trust are the garden of trust where we live together. If rude actions are repeated mistakenly, interpersonal confidence gained after years of hard work begins to crack and boundaries start to form. When what you claim to know contradicts your life and you cannot verify your knowledge through your life, the garden of trust begins to become thick with weeds, and the plant of belief will not grow but will wither to death. If principles change according to circumstances and anomalies prevail, human trust and solidarity break at once. The trust and solidarity of a community grows on promises. Should promises be broken habitually, things will not be going well. Where a variety of people are connected through vast networks, one person’s failure to keep their promise could work as the fatal weakness or the Achilles heel of a community. Trust and solidarity become sturdier when the decision-making process is transparent and when judgment and decisions are fair. If unfair evaluations erupt frequently, hard-won trust and solidarity collapses indiscriminately, and the conviction of being unable to share a common fate begins to grow. A happy community is not built by one person’s solitary effort; it is possible only when every participating member exercises their own specialty and talent, thereby enabling devotion and absorption for each other’s sake. When one who enjoys pleasure thanks to what they do is in communion with the pleasure of another person, the relationship and solidarity enabling the exchange of pleasure will grow to be a solid community that will not easily collapse.


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