Of decency and heroism in a time of plague in Hong Kong : Human beings have a remarkable capacity of goodness

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One thing is certain: in you, there are two natures.
The miserly, the prudent one against the generous.
For many years you will attempt to reconcile them
Till all your works have grown small
And you will prize only uncalculated gifts,
Greatheartedness, self-forgetful giving,
Without monuments, books, and human memory

(From A Boy, by Czesław Miłosz)

If we know anything about human beings in extreme circumstances, it is their remarkable capacity for goodness.

I don’t mean the goodness of saints, for that is something attained only by the few. I mean a kind of practical, unpretentious helpfulness that I shall here call decency. In everyday life, such decency often passes unrecognized, though it is what keeps communities together. In extraordinary times, it takes on a heroic aspect. “Heroic decency” is, at first sight, an improbable conjunction.

What follows is a story about its appearance. It occurred in the life and death of a young Hong Kong doctor who, in another year of fear and uncertainty, the SARS crisis of 2003, came to exemplify the everyday heroism of which people are capable.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationMercatorNet
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2020



  • coronavirus reading
  • Hong Kong

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