Let’s not kid ourselves - 2020 has been rough. The worst pandemic in a century, and maybe the sharpest economic contraction in just as long. People are sick, frightened, losing loved ones and losing jobs. We’re all in desperate need of a hug, and it’s the one thing we can’t give each other.
Maybe it’s wrong to look for a silver lining in all this, but maybe it’s essential. We can’t survive without hope, and a tragedy on this scale is even more tragic if we don’t learn from it. Like WWII led to the expansion of international human rights and the European welfare state, this pandemic could lead to positive change. Universal healthcare? A universal basic income grant? A green revolution? Time will tell, but already things have changed that I wouldn’t want to change back:
There has been an outpouring of generosity like I have never seen before. From the 8 pm cheering for doctors and nurses to the feeding schemes, community CANs, donations, and online fundraising events to the small acts of kindness between neighbours, like sewing masks or dropping off groceries. I have a neighbour who leaves me a piece of cake in a Tupperware on the front step once a week. We’re supporting each other, chipping in, and looking beyond our own narrow lives and I hope it never ends.
Letting go of being busy
Our culture idolises being busy. We measure our worth by our productivity - how much we can get done in a day, both for work (maximise efficiency) and our social lives (live your best life). It’s exhausting. The pandemic has forced us to slow down and accept quiet time. In my experience, people have been understanding if a task takes me longer than it usually would, because we all know how much emotional strain we’re under. How about we keep the patience and the kindness, even after the emotional strain eases up.
We’ve all rolled our eyes at some of the more outlandish #natureishealing posts - the dolphins in Venice, the elephants in China - but the truth is the pandemic has massively reduced carbon emissions and air pollution. In the northern Indian city of Jalandhar, residents can see the distant Himalayas for the first time in a generation. Knowing what’s possible can inspire us to make the change permanent. In South Africa so much of our energy comes from coal - we need to leave that norm in the pre-pandemic past.
Tens of thousands of flights traversing the globe every day - did we really need them? Air travel is terrible for the planet and makes a huge difference to our carbon footprint. Likewise, we spent our lives sitting in gridlocked traffic, belting out exhaust fumes as we rushed to offices and meetings. Now, it turns out, many of the meetings we thought had to be face-to-face have been just fine over Zoom. And we’re finding newfound appreciation for our local park. I’m hoping we’ll approach travel, when it returns, with a bit more thought and, in the case of leisure travel, appreciation: Less as a consumer good, status symbol and social media brag zone, and more as a special, rare and enriching experience.
Staying in touch
I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot more time catching up with my family these days than I ever did before. The WhatsApp group is busier, we all make time to have a drink together every week, even though we’re scattered in different cities. I speak to old friends more than I used to. The pandemic has made me truly appreciate the people in my life - and how short life can be - and I hope I carry this newfound gratitude into whatever kind of life the post-COVID world has in store.