Many people are feeling vulnerable and alone. Will it make them more empathetic?

Everything is unsettled.

Whatever you thought was steady and predictable has now turned out to be alien and dangerous. You can no longer interact with your family or friends or other members of your community face to face—never mind hug or touch them. Your routines and habits have been upended, and you face new deprivations, a reversal for which you were unprepared.

Nor can you depend on long-standing safety nets that would supposedly always be there for you. As for strangers, you can’t tell which ones could imperil your safety, and who might offer assistance. Distance becomes the norm.

That’s a description of life for countless millions in the times of the coronavirus. Yes, but it also captures the daily experience—from the very beginning of history—of vast numbers of exiles and migrants as they discover how to survive a journey into the unknown.

Is it possible, then, that these uprooted men, women and children who left their homes behind for a new land—whether in search of more auspicious prospects or because they were fleeing a catastrophe—have some lessons to teach us now that the pandemic has, in some sense, made exiles of us all?

As someone who comes from a family of refugees—and who has spent his own life wandering, losing and gaining countries and languages—I trust that there is much to learn from the experience of extreme dislocation suffered by humanity’s expatriate multitudes.

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