Do you remember Rod Stewart’s beautiful performance of the Northern Irish singer and songwriter Van Morrison’s song from 1989, which has given title to my article today? If you don’t, it may be because you are too young, or because you know other songs with similar, universal content. The first verse of the song goes like this: “Have I told you lately that I love you? Have I told you that there’s no one else above you? You fill my heart with gladness; take away all my sadness; you ease my troubles, that’s what you do.” Then in the other verses, the lyrics give reference to the glory of the morning sun, of laughter, and the less defined dimensions of love – till the evening, when we should give thanks and pray. Yes, so simple, fundamental and universal for all human beings at all times, anywhere – provided we have the ability, luck, and God’s grace to find and seize it.

In this unusual time with the pandemic, we should all reflect on the basic issues in life and what the good life really is. Suddenly, we have more time to do so as our busy schedules have become less busy. We also realise that much of what we thought was so important just a few weeks ago, is not so important any more.

The famous Norwegian anthropologist, Professor Thomas Hylland Eriksen (58), was interviewed in his attic home office (via Skype) in Oslo. He is in a two-week quarantine with his family in his villa, after a recent trip to Ireland.

Hylland Eriksen said that after he was diagnosed with cancer four or five years ago, his life in many ways became more meaningful. That doesn’t mean he welcomed it, but it made him take a break in his hectic life and ask: what is really important? In the ‘Aftenposten’ newspaper magazine interview last weekend, he said the same about the current corona pandemic, that maybe the sudden halt it gave to the way of life we have taken for granted, was what we needed in order to start thinking about the fragile foundation of it all. People quickly realised the insecurity of the system, such as the technologically and environmentally unsustainable world we have built, the inter-dependence of countries, the fragile financial system, the displacement of people and migration, the inequality issues between individuals, groups and countries, and many other visible and invisible issues and wrong priorities.

Hylland Eriksen finds it strange that we did not change course earlier, developing new and alternative ways for how to live slower and more humane lives, with less overuse of people, nature and resources. We could have had more time to family, friends, colleagues, local communities, and those that we travel with on our life journey. He says that although we speak a lot about climate change and global warming, relatively little has been done in the last 30 years. We still focus on economic growth and profit.

That reminds me of the important development debates that we had in the North as well as the South in the 1970s and early 1980s, about a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and the Basic Needs Strategy for developing countries. Little came of them, though, and I believe one major reason for that was that the World Bank and other advocates for status-quo were allowed to be part of the groups that worked for change and deep revision of the capitalist system. Some UN organisations, including UNDP, ILO, UNCTAD and others had good intentions. The United Nations University conducted the GPID Project with focus on rural development, land reforms, credit to peasants, cooperatives, labour laws and unions, health and education, redistribution of wealth, and other basic needs issues that would curb the cold, big capitalism and lead to human rights and development for all. Alas, most of that, too, remained in the drawers of the researchers and UN bureaucrats.

But now, during and after the corona pandemic, I believe we should re-visit the important work. This time around, we must be more politically realistic than we were in the 1970s, and we must let like-minded radical politicians and researchers in the South play a key part. A more humane world will again become more local; we don’t need to trade with and travel to the ‘end of the world’ all the time, and we must let the multinationals run lose any longer.

Finally, how is Pakistan doing in the current crisis? I believe Pakistan is doing well. I am impressed by what I see as for compliance with advice, to keep a distance, wear a face mask, wash hands, meet in very small groups, and the other things the government recommends. Yet, I am also worried about the limited incentives and help the government can provide as needed. There is much less money for crisis packages in the health sector, and for jobless and companies with reduced business and income, than in my rich home country Norway. I pray that the sensible and kind Pakistani people, with the politicians and other leaders, will be able to find ways of coping. I hope that China, the West and other donors will indeed help in a major way, as is their moral responsibility and duty to do.

Dear readers, dear Pakistanis, if I have not told you lately that I love you, be assured of it now. Whereas words of love, moral support and prayers are important, they are perhaps more symbolic than giving real and concrete help in unusually difficult times.

Atle Hetland The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid. atlehetland@yahoo.com