To say it’s been an odd couple of weeks in the UK is an understatement. Indeed, for some parts of the world, it’s been an odd couple of months, and the worst is likely yet to come. The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging us all in ways that many of us didn’t think possible. The total lock-downs and partial lock-downs currently in force across the globe are unprecedented. Our social structures have been [temporarily] dismantled; schools are closed, shops are closed, pubs and restaurants are closed. All over the world, people are starting to realise just what it means to lose the things that many of us take for granted; our liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of choice are no longer there in the way they once were and there is no real understanding of just how long it might be until they fully return. It’s unsettling. But, whilst the streets might be eerily quiescent, social media is alive!
The area I live in has around 4,000 residents. Many of the homes are occupied by either young families or retired people. I feel lucky to live here. We’ve got a great community spirit under normal circumstances, but over the past two weeks, things have really ramped up. We’ve got a new community website with details of volunteers, which streets have them, who they are and how to contact them. The neighbours who set up the website also arranged for our local bakery, SPAR mini-market and independent convenience store to run a telephone order and home delivery service for residents who are isolating. I’m blown away by just how much a small number of people have been able to achieve in under two weeks. But, this isn’t unique to my little corner of Shropshire. Looking at my Twitter feed and checking-in with family and friends, it’s clear to see that all over, communities are really looking out for each other, and in doing so, are highlighting the best side of human nature.
There is perhaps an obvious parallel to draw between the current situation we are facing and the old ‘blitz spirit’ cliche which is often referenced in the UK during times of difficulty; we are a world at war, but for perhaps the first time in human history, we are a world united. As our countries invoke policies such as social distancing, It feels like we are rapidly and collectively developing a real appreciation for cause and effect and how our own individual actions can have an exponential impact on others. We’re becoming acutely aware on a global scale, that how we move within an environment can have hugely detrimental effects on our fellow citizens, and that’s not only bad for others, it’s bad for us too. We have no choice but to work together because the virus is moving so rapidly, it’s tangible at a hyper-local level.
It’s likely that following this unprecedented period of enforced and rapid change, some things simply won’t return to the way they were before. We know from history that innovation is often born out of such adversity. Therefore, whilst it is obvious and appropriate to focus on the human tragedy of a war such as the one we are living through today, it is also true that it will bring many opportunities. Whilst it might be perverse to even think it now, COVID-19 might leave a positive legacy for humankind; it may provide us with the perspective, empathy and insight we desperately need.
I remember seeing a terse post on social media recently which suggested that many of those people fighting over the last toilet roll in the supermarket might now finally understand the desperation a Syrian refugee feels when fighting to flee an oppressive regime. It was a flippant comment, but there’s a logic to it which I get. In a wider sense, this situation is if nothing else a leveller. Those of us in the world who are lucky enough to live in countries in which we are able to enjoy liberty, freedom of movement and freedom of choice, now understand what it is like to have our lives drastically changed as a collective; to have things we hold dear taken away from us, on a global scale. So perhaps, this might yet bring us all closer together. Perhaps our governments might finally be able to move beyond domestic politics to take a truly collaborative approach to tackle other omnipresent global catastrophes, such as climate change. It will be interesting to see the metrics which appear following the worst of the pandemic, highlighting how curtailed global travel and industry shutdowns, as well as our own limited personal travel, have all contributed to a reduction in global emissions and the impact that has had on our struggling ecosystems.
There is likely worse to come. This war is not yet won. However, billions of people are able to see just how quickly we can mobilise towards fighting for a common cause. Perhaps during this time of isolation and slow living, we might gain a fresh perspective on what’s really important, and paradoxically our social distancing might actually bring us all closer together.