I just came across this blog in my Blog Draft file from early into the Pandemic. Ironically it is now April 2022, Covid-19 is still with us, hospitals are still overwhelmed and a huge chunk of us are fully vaccinated but mindsets are mostly different. Reading this now, it is the last paragraph that resonates with me because it turned out to be so true – people changed their lives when all restrictions were lifted in 2022. Some didn’t go back to the workplace because they experienced working from home was better, or they changed jobs for good. How they were treated by their employer in the rough times influenced whether they returned to work once “normality” returned to society – if the employer had supported them, they supported the employer to get their business back on track. If the employer behaved shabbily during the rough times – employees voted with their feet.
I haven’t posted at all during the pandemic, mainly because I figured what could I possibly say that could offer any comfort or advice or guidance, absolutely nothing.
Then, some ‘phone calls came then some emails and advice was sought.
I had no advice to offer apart from advising how to do breathing exercises when panic sets in, because that really is all I had to offer – breathing exercises. These are dangerous and hopeless times so breathing might help in the moment. And it was there that I was stopped in my tracks. Hopeless is a big old word. Hopeless is the emptiest of all words. So I stopped using it and began to search for what is hopeful, what is salvaged and what more can be salvaged.
Here’s what I learnt:
That people lose faith in their leaders quicker than they do in each other. We lose faith in leaders when they make obviously poor decisions or when they lie to us. When the British trusted their leader during the horror of WWII, despite the government of the day assuming that the British people would not abide by the rules – they did. They went above and beyond what the government required of them. I read about a bombed cafe hand-written sign: “Open more than usual” People are hopeful and resilient.
I re-learnt that “Language is a precursor to action” (Toni Morrison):
The majority of people follow instruction to the letter – “social distancing” really did cause people to walk past each other, even in the depth of woods and hills, without acknowledging each other – unthinkable before these two words were used. If, the instruction had been “physical distancing” – I am convinced that people would have kept to the same 2m apart but would, possibly, have acknowledged each other with a nod or a hello as usual. Words are important.
That faith and trust in leadership is a delicate thing, not blind. Use it wisely and you can keep millions of people safe. Let it slip, be vague – just once, and chaos ensues. Much like when we were children – we needed a parent to be firmly in charge. This gave us some wriggle room to protest and disobey but we knew what red line we couldn’t cross and we might dance around it, but rarely over it. And if we did go over it, we knew there would be consequences.
That in times of peril – communities like to be communities. People like the opportunity to act as one, in each other’s interest, to show care and selflessness outside the direction of regulatory bodies. No sooner had the lockdown begun when a group called #VirtualKindness posted letters through doors offering to shop for anyone shielding or isolating. And shopped they did, week after week after week.
That people are capable of giving up things they thought they couldn’t live without; capable of freeing themselves from behaviour that they had previously considered unchangeable.