The most striking aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA is the blatant selfishness it brings out in people. If a face mask won’t protect me why wear one? The hell with all those old and sick people. It is not heartlessness. It is ignorance. Think for a moment before setting out for the next party or the beach. Would you be as cavalier in your attitude if you realized that each of those people you endanger, and you yourself, is the last of its kind. A once only experiment of Nature never to be repeated again?
Recent DNA research suggests that for two people selected at random, there will be approximately 20,000 single base pair differences in just the protein coding sequences. Assuming a random distribution of those differences the chance of two genomes being identical is 1 in 210,000, a number many orders of magnitude larger than all the protons, neutrons, and electrons in the entire universe.
It seems that the entire history of the universe has waited for you and for your possible victim, to be born, and once you are gone you will never happen again. Ever. Neither will any of the other 7 billion unique human experiments of nature that currently inhabit this little planet. Think about a unique treasure, the Mona Lisa, the great pyramid of Giza, a Dead-Sea scroll. There is only one of each, and they are irreplaceable. You are a Mona Lisa, a pyramid, a scroll.
Or think of the last of an endangered species, the last Condor. Think how precious, how fragile, and how important it is. It does not matter whether the last Condor is young or old, sick or healthy or particularly smart. It does not need a resumé. Its significance lies strictly in its uniqueness, in the fact that once it dies there will be no more of its kind. You are just as unique. You are an endangered species of one.
How would you treat the last of a species? Would you harm it, torment or insult it? The next time you mutter to yourself: "There you go again you fat ugly moron", or the next time you abuse your body to gain a bit more respect or a bit more money, think of that Condor. Once you learn not to harm yourself, how could you then go out and harm any other such unique treasure as yourself?
I am not talking about love here. You don't need to love that last Condor. What you need is to treasure, respect, and protect it from harm. Love is an easy word to hide behind since it can mean anything you want it to mean. You can "love thy neighbor" in the name of Christ and then go slaughter that neighbor because he is a Jew, or you can pray five times a day to "Allah the Loving Merciful" and then blow up the twin towers. Given the choice I'd take "treasuring, respecting and protecting" any day over "love".
The Buddhists teach that peace starts within us. If you are peaceful inside you will generate peace around you. It doesn't work the other way around. Do you know why the injunction "Thou shalt not kill" has never worked? Precisely because it deals with what’s outside, not inside, you. The seventh commandment would have been far more effective as "Thou shalt respect thyself". Every killing has its root in disrespect.
You may have a hard time remembering your uniqueness because ever since you were born it has been drilled into you are part of greater whole, a small cog in a larger and much more significant whole. You are part of “humanity”. You are one small girl amongst all the females of the species, one white or black among all the other members of your race, an American or a German, gay or straight. You are a Liberal or a Conservative, a Christian or an atheist. Whatever you are, so they told you, there are millions of others just like you. But are there? Saying that there are millions like you is like saying that the last Condor is just a bird.
In your heart of hearts you once knew that no one was like you, yet your parents, your school, your church taught you otherwise, and gradually you forgot who you really were. The story of why you agreed to trade your singular personhood for a fabricated group identity is the sad story of human misery. The trade off was supposed to make you bigger, more powerful. “There is power in numbers” they said. Joe Shmoe is a nobody, they told you in school, but Joe Shmoe who is a proud American is the greatest in the world. So much so that Joe has the right, even the duty, to go half around the world and kill a whole bunch of non-Americans who have done him no harm nor posed any direct threat to him.
That's power? That's greatness?
Mathematically speaking Joe Shmoe got a bum deal. As a unique individual he was far bigger than Joe the American. There can be nothing bigger than one-of-a-kind. It is beyond comparison. Sometimes you need numbers to get your story right. And the numbers should tell you the right way to treat yourself and all the other unique specimen like you.