In the Chart of Humanities, we collect the voices of experts from the Humanities for Health who told us about their guiding pillars at the time of COVID-19. We report here the testimony of Jonathan McFarland, from the Academic Writing Office, Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, and member of our international Faculty.
Even though I am now living in Spain and have been for around twenty years, I was born in England and so this exercise reminded me a little bit of Desert Island Discs, which, for those of you who are not acquainted with it, is one of the longest running radio programmes in England. It is practically a national treasure like Queen Elizabeth or a cup of tea, etc.
On Desert Island Discs you must choose the music you would like to take with you when you sent to a deserted island to survive. You are also allowed one book as well as the Bible and one luxury. So, there are some things that do seem to ring a bell, in these days of self-isolation and quarantining in your homes. The main difference being the location, for all of us might now prefer to be on a desert island.
When thinking of the biological model two things came directly to mind; a good diet and as much exercise as possible. I have been self-isolating for around three weeks, and luckily with all my family; that is my wife and two teenage daughters, and we so far have not been lacking in provisions. So, I have tried to keep a varied diet, which I suppose is now more important than ever, with lots of vegetables, fruit, etc. I have also started eating more ginger, garlic etc. in order to increase my immunity, whether this is necessary or not, I suppose I have been telling myself that it might help. I have set a routine of walking for at least 5 km a day, and here we are blessed as we have a garden and so I have my route, and so far, have been able to maintain this level of exercise.
Many years ago, when I was doing exams, my mother used to write on pieces of paper Juvenal’s pithy statement mens sana in corpore sano and place it within my sight. I think that this advice is still valid, probably more so than ever, and thus keeping strong mentally is linked to my daily walks. While walking I am reminded of how many of the great philosophers where great walkers; indeed, walking was an important part of their intellectual training, think of Nietzsche, Thoreau, Kant or Kierkegaard, to name a few. If you have time, I would recommend Frederic Gros’ A philosophy of walking. I certainly feel that walking gets the ideas flowing, and often when walking these days, I have also taken to recording my ideas.
Another thing is that while walking I have been listening to audiobooks, and this is a very good way of maintaining oneself mentally alert.
I also think that keeping habits is important, get up early and get dressed etc, is a way of keeping us strong psychologically, and trying to keep the news at some distance; no television, social media to a minimum.
As mentioned earlier, I am lucky because the whole family is here together, and this is a good way of strengthening family bonds; I am lucky in that the family unit is already very strong but I am sure that this experience will make us stronger; we have both lunch and dinner always together, and we never watch television, at lunch we talk and at dinner, we sometimes watch series from the Internet.
Everybody now is talking about “working from home” and using ZOOM etc., but I have been using video conferencing tools for some time now and so they are not new to me, however, they are a Godsend in these moments and we, as a family, have organised a gathering of friends once a week to chat and swap experiences. This Sunday we are getting together to sing karaoke, which I never do, but this time it will be for a bit of a laugh. It is called the Gin & Tonic Karaoke hour and is a distraction.
This is perhaps the most difficult; I am not by definition religious although I was brought up in Christian education, like many I suppose. These days do give us much time to think and ponder about things, and this is very positive. I am always suggesting that people should make themselves plenty of “thinking” time, and my thinking time is very often also equated to my walking time. These are very troubled and trying moments but I firmly believe that, if we remain healthy and try to use our time well, and in a balanced way, then we will emerge from this stronger, not least because we will have had time to look at “our” things in more depth, be aware of how lucky we are in many fields of our lives. I am, of course, speaking for myself but am sure that this refers to many like me. I do not think of God per se but do often think about my place in this world, the importance of nature, the importance of our relationship with nature, how we should always try to help others, and help ourselves, have empathy for ourselves to have empathy for others. And much more…