By Han van Krieken
Life has become uncertain, in more than one sense. The virus that is currently circulating can make us or our loved ones sick, and may possibly result in serious illness or even death. Our daily lives have changed completely and the social distancing measures that we have now been forced to adopt are incompatible with the behaviour that is so inherent to us as social creatures. Some people have seen an enormous increase in their workload, while others have lost both their jobs and their income. And no-one knows how long this situation is going to last.
We are no longer used to having to deal with such great uncertainty. The days when there was an increased risk of dying from illness at a young age are long gone. There are few people left in the Netherlands who have personally experienced uncertain times in extreme circumstances, such as war. There is a social and economic safety net for almost everyone. Of course, there are always threats. You may become sick, or have an accident, or be worried about terrorism, or climate issues. You could possibly lose your job, or have to deal with other setbacks. But most of the people in the Netherlands have lived their lives with a great deal of certainty, and that is something to be proud of.
What or who can we cling to in uncertain times? Firstly, we can cling to each other. We have seen a resilience and energy in many people who want to make a difference. In hospitals, on social media, and in a variety of crisis teams. Many examples of these can be found within Radboud university medical center and Radboud University. Secondly, we can cling to science. Our government has primarily allowed its policy to be guided by science, and this has obviously been done with an additional focus on the emotions that currently exist in our society. Fortunately, we are seeing that many people have confidence in both science and government policy.
But let us not forget that science cannot not always provide the answers to every question, and cannot always provide certainty. In fact, uncertainty is an intrinsic element of science. Science always asks questions, it challenges everything, and it ventures into the unknown. In the most profound sense, science is all about doubt and discovering what is right within this doubt. That is what our government advisors are now trying to do: they are attempting to set a clear course despite knowing their knowledge is incomplete. As Prime Minister Rutte put it, the government is making one hundred percent of the decisions with fifty percent of the knowledge. We must learn to deal with this situation, and discover what is right and what must be done within this uncertainty. This is a situation that may be familiar to us in our role as scientists, but it is also a situation we are not accustomed to in our personal lives. This is something that we must learn, because it is no different. We are finding out more and more about the COVID-19 infection, but at the same time there is still so much that we do not know. We may suddenly be caught off guard or have to face new challenges, but let us endeavour to do our utmost to use what we do know as the basis of our actions, no matter how difficult that may sometimes be, especially when emotions run high.
The third thing that many people may cling to is faith. For some this may be faith in God, Allah or another religious basis, while for others it will be faith in humankind, faith in each other, or perhaps even faith in themselves. Hopefully at this time we will all find comfort in love, for whoever or whatever that might be. For as uncertain as love may be, it is a source that is capable of providing us with strength certain as well as uncertain times.