We are living strange and difficult times. We didn’t choose them, but we can choose how to manage them and what to get from them. My suggestion is to think about what Marie Curie said once, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

This is a once-in-a-life opportunity to not just hit the pause button and wait for better times to come, but to make the ‘invisible’ visible, and most of the ‘visible’ irrelevant. “It is only with the heart that one can ‘see’ rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery said in The Little Prince.

More recently, French social critic Christophe Guilluy has added that “the invisible, those who ‘were no-one’ just yesterday, showed in just a few hours that they are, in fact, the key gear of society.”

We understand better now that the society we were so proud of is not as idyllic as we thought, in terms of equality, freedom and ecology.

Our labour market is outdated because it doesn’t allow women to be mothers; our education is outdated, because it doesn’t fit with the job offer; our social, economic and political system is outdated, because when it overcomes traditional poverty it brings more poverty of a new kind, poverty of time and affection, of the affection we all need so much.

“With life suspended, parameters of what is possible, what is necessary and what is available have been deeply altered,” as German sociologist Stephan Lessenich puts it. We have learnt to match our jobs with housework better; to devote more time to our children’s education; to find time to celebrate the family, either because they were with us or because we spent time with them online; to thank those who keep working outside as we realize how important they are for all.

In a word, we have learnt that, even if we have to keep physical distance from others for some time, we need to be socially united to them, we need to “see”’ them with our heart. All those videos produced during the quarantine with musicians performing a piece together from home are a good image of it.

The past will probably not come again exactly as it was, and the present is not what we want to keep. We can’t change that. It is the future that depends on how we use all those lessons to promote a new set of rules.

In my opinion, those rules should be based on four main principles:

  • Flexibility in work conditions. We have seen how telework can be the rule in many cases, making work-family balance more accessible; helping the worker feel more integrated; saving space, time and costs to the employer.
  • Responsibility in sharing work at home. With more flexible work arrangements, women wouldn’t have to face alone the triple burden of working as a man, having children and being responsible for most or the housework, as fathers would be able to spend more time at home.
  • Solidarity among generations. The pandemic outbreak has been particularly detrimental to members of social groups in the most vulnerable situations, especially older persons, persons with disabilities and other illnesses, as well as youth and indigenous peoples in some areas. Beyond its immediate health impact, the pandemic will put many of them at greater risk of poverty, discrimination and isolation. We need to recover the intergenerational bond and find practical ways to show that every human life is equally important.
  • Sustainability. Let’s not forget that this term, as originally coined by the Brundtland Commission, means “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” We need to take care of our planet, but because we want to take care of its inhabitants, our fellow men and women.

The Sustainable Development Agenda, signed by all the governments of the world five years ago, set the clearest roadmap for the future (Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs). Eradicating poverty, consolidating health habits, reaching inclusive equitable quality education and achieving gender equality are all part of that agenda, but how can we find the right way to reach them?

For me, family is the correct answer for a really holistic approach. The family unit has proven to be the main agent for development within societies and the cornerstone for sustainable cities. Therefore, its sphere of action must be of great concern in order to facilitate its role in generations to come.

A report of the United Nations Secretary General reminds that “families provide material and non-material care and support to members, from children to older persons or those suffering from illness, sheltering them from hardship to the maximum possible extent.”

Italian politician Roberto Ciambetti, as president of the Regional Council in one of the first and most affected regions during the pandemic, pointed out: “Our social structure in Veneto is holding thanks to the family: the family has proven to be the reference point and the authentic pillar of society.”

As we in IFFD have proven with our project on SDGs and Families, “Family policies are a mainstay of national public policies, and the most meaningful vehicle for governments to influence the living standards of upcoming generations. As part of achieving the global ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals, family policies have an important part to play in meeting targets across many of the goals.”

Celebrate the family, rediscover the family, focus on the family if you want to build the new society on flexibility, responsibility, care and sustainability. Improve family policies to show how to do it. That will be the right way to establish equality, freedom and ecology, and to reach all members of society.

Republished with permission from the Family International Monitor.

Ignacio Socias is Director of the International Federation for Family Development, an umbrella organization for more than 250 Family Enrichment Centers that operates in 70 countries, benefits over 90,000...