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By Donald Phillipps in All Sorts

we need all the logic that we can summon to deal with the Covid-19 threat

A nursery rhyme my grandmother taught me when I was probably 4 or 5 was already very old in 1800 when her grandmother was born. In fact, it probably goes back at another 200 years to Shakespeare’s time. That’s what makes nursery rhymes so wonderful. They’ve been round for so long, and we still find them intriguing, and satisfying, and fun.
I’m back in the kitchen of Grannie’s house, and she’s sitting by the Shacklock range, probably stirring something that takes a long time in the making. Maybe I had asked one of those questions (that littlies ask) to which there is no real answer – or, at least, not one that Grannies know. Whatever the case I do still remember her reciting:
There was an old woman lived under a hill,
And if she’s not gone, she’s living there still.
It would be silly to suggest that I remember now what I thought then about her answer. What did happen was that the words caught my attention, and stuck - I’ve never forgotten them. And the more I think about them now, the more sure I am that, as with me, so for a thousand, thousand other little kids I then learned my first lesson in logic. “If she’s not gone, she’s living there still” – of course!
At this present moment in the life of our world, and of humanity in particular, we need all the logic that we can summon to deal with the Covid-19 threat. It is too large for most of us to handle, and we want to be led by people – politicians, community leaders, health professionals - who take these matters seriously. We are not helped at all by world leaders who deny the reality of the pandemic, and still speak of it as if it were not much more than a dose of the ‘flu. And while they say such things, tens of thousands of their own people die.
Nor is it helpful when those on the side-lines want to lay blame on something, or, more particularly, somebody, for the predicament we’re in. What makes this all the worse is that they speak as if there were a conspiracy going on – people in ‘the know’ holding back information, or preventing proper measures being taken.
It is, of course, quite natural that we should want to know the truth, as it were, as soon as it has been established. We want to be treated as mature individuals, and not as children who need protection from reality. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that our ability to understand and absorb the truth, and learn from it, varies from person to person. We can nod wisely and say, “Yes, of course...!” in order to cover up our incomprehension.
And as has been illustrated constantly over these past months, we can be asked, invited, even instructed to do this or that thing so that the health of the community will be maintained. But our ignorance, our prejudices, and our plain and simple selfishness get in the way. This we know to our cost – at least on the basis of overseas experience - that human error is a major factor in the spread of the pandemic.
Not knowing is hard to accept. For thousands of years, probably, humans have connected ignorance with ‘darkness’, as if darkness were a bad thing. But we live lives that alternate naturally between darkness and light. Without the darkness of night there would be no relief, no rest, no recuperation. We should not mindlessly fear the dark – and, especially, we should not people our darkness with figments of our imagination.
Ignorance is not bliss. Nor is it simply a sign of human weakness. Ignorance surrounds us. In a recent article I found these words: “Modern-day science is a unique tradition of knowledge, inasmuch as it openly admits ignorance regarding the most important questions.” It is important for us all to hear a scientist say that. They don‘t know, yet – but they expect to know. That’s the nature of their hope. Our hope is our faith in them – they deserve our patience.
But it also asks for an attitude towards the future that is positive - to say the very least. If we face the future fearfully, then it may be that the future will be fearful. I believe we should listen again to the words of Jesus. Here is one version: “But keep up your courage: I have won the victory over the world." He challenges us, and he promises us. He keeps his promises.
Donald Phillipps