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An understanding and recipe for our common future


29 April 2020 at 7:25 pm
Karen Mahlab AM
We humans think of ourselves as stand alone, independent units, but we are not, writes Pro Bono Australia founder and CEO Karen Mahlab AM.


Karen Mahlab AM | 29 April 2020 at 7:25 pm


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An understanding and recipe for our common future
29 April 2020 at 7:25 pm

We humans think of ourselves as stand alone, independent units, but we are not, writes Pro Bono Australia founder and CEO Karen Mahlab AM.

We are all porous. It is an illusion that we are separate beings: either from each other or from the planet. COVID-19 has only made this awareness more acute.

As much as we don’t see the invisible virus we are now seeing those who were invisible to us  before COVID and who have now become connected to us in their pain and in their glory.

The people our economy has left behind, those who have been ignored or maligned have become more visible. Care workers are being celebrated, the unemployed are being seen not as shirkers but as normal people hard on their luck. We are finding that kind words can ripple outward like droplets on a still lake, that loneliness is endemic, that home can be chronically unsafe, that mental health issues touch everyone, and that the possibility of being homeless may not be as remote as you think. 

“Breathe in. Breathe out,” usually signals the beginning of any relaxation or meditation session. Close your eyes, feel the breath moving in and out of your nostrils. Cold air in, warmer air out. We take the cold from outside into our bodies, we heat it and then we exhale it. Breathing. It’s a miraculous, and unconscious function we do every day 17,000 times. Every day 11,000 litres of air moves in and out, combining and connecting our insides with the world outside. 

Not just through our breath, but through our skin, the largest organ of our body. We know that walking in nature, tree bathing, gardening: all of it is absorbing the bounty that nature gives. But we also know that while resisting water, our skin absorbs chemicals, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals. The same is true of what we eat. What we put from the outside into our mouths provides the fuel for our body to operate. As they say in the data world: rubbish in, rubbish out.

We humans think of ourselves as stand alone, independent units but we are not.

Invisible to the eye, the COVID virus is ruling our worlds. The virus is a microcosm of what we are now experiencing at a global scale. Viruses too are transferred, absorbed into our bodies. COVID-19 is a world we have come to inhabit. Temporarily. And that has come to inhabit us. One little germ can kill you. And this one little germ has disconnected us all. 

Yet strangely it may also help bring us together.

We have social media. And thank goodness for the ability of screens, once maligned, to connect us with faces we know and love. But it’s not enough. 

In the midst of this pandemic, empathy, compassion, love – the intangibles that make life meaningful, that are free to give and free to receive – are making a break for it, saying “See, this works!” 

So how do we make it last?

We start by acknowledging our porous nature as human beings, humans conscious of our interconnectedness on this planet at this time. If we can take this understanding into a post-COVID world perhaps we will all be able to come up with a new, improved recipe for a richly sustained and sustainable common future. 

We could all step forward, rather than “snap back”.


Karen Mahlab AM  |  Founder  |  @kmahlab

Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.

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