South Africa has been in lockdown since 27th March 2020 – that amounts to 13 ½ weeks at the time of writing. What have I learned about myself, society and the human condition during that time? How am I making sense of all these constraints on my personal freedom? How am I coping with the anxiety of an ever more threatening future?
Being Subjected to Outside Disciplinary Measures
I live in a village for Senior Residents. I was told by the Village Manager yesterday that I was not allowed to visit my daughter who lives about 15K from my home and has just returned from hospital after a surgical procedure. I was somewhat stunned to internalise this restriction on my liberty, but realised that a protest would evoke unpleasant repercussions from my community
So my plans were thwarted. Despite spending yesterday morning making vegetable soup and kneidlach, spring rolls, and stewed apples; topped by homemade rolls and a fresh carrot and cabbage salad, my aspirations were stymied. My intention was to share these symbols of my love with my two daughters over a celebratory supper.
However, when my younger daughter arrived at the security station to fetch me and the fondly made repast, she was not allowed inside the Village grounds. Not even to collect the food. Furthermore, I was told by the village Manager that if I left the village to visit my recuperating offspring, I would not be allowed back into my home again! And, I did not even protest!
School Goers also have Disciplinary Features in the Daily Routine
Our local scholars have just returned to school after three months of home learning. They are not allowed to play in the grounds during the break, but must sit in their desks to eat their snacks. Teachers are not able to walk between the children’s desks, let alone hug them or shake their hands. Standing in line to have temperatures taken and hands sanitised is the opening ritual on arriving at school. So, I am certainly not the only person in the world whose activities are being thwarted.
Some Sanity from a Wise Psychiatrist and Environmentalist
I had the privilege of listening to Ian McCullum putting into perspective the anxiety-provoking circumstances of our present lifestyle. He drew my attention to some profound new understandings initiated by the confluence of the Covid pandemic, together with the virulent reaction to the death of George Floyd. There have been many demonstrations over the years when police violence in America has been out of proportion, however this particular event was witnessed all over the world with the 8 minute 46 second video, circulated by a bystander. The unexpected consequences have been monumental.
Our Defence Mechanisms
Dr McCullum offered some profound insight. He described the response to the present unique circumstances in terms of four “viruses.” More traditional psychological theory might have labelled the qualities ‘defence mechanisms.’
- Ignorance is manifested by those who do not have the ability to recognise that all humans and animals are interconnected. Many do not have the curiosity to internalise this concept of inter-dependency.
- Entitlement is a quality possessed by many people who are in denial of their privileges. The present challenges have demonstrated clearly that it is the poorer and less privileged who are the worst victims of this scourge. It is not true to say, the virus does not discriminate. Statistics show that a lower socioeconomic status puts the individual at greater risk.
- Indifference is displayed by arrogant people who think it is their right to come first, and are incapable of internalizing the significance of their privileges.
- Defeatism is used as a tool for those who declare it is too late to do anything about climate change. They declare that to be optimistic is to be foolhardy. However, active hope is an essential tool for humankind if we are going to find a “new normal”
Covid-19, Racism and Climate Change.
The confluence of the challenges of Covid-19, Racism and Climate Change has brought to my attention the necessity for each and every one of us to examine their personal values and beliefs. We have just undergone a massive worldwide change in our behaviour. All over the globe citizens of many countries have had their freedom curtailed by government regulations.
The threat of the virus is immediate, whereas the threat from climate change is long term. There is no immediate repercussion for the individual if he or she continues to use plastic indiscriminately. Racism has existed all our lifetime and the destruction of the spirit of those with darker skin hues gets condoned because their hurt feelings are not visible.
We can change our behaviour, turn our lifestyle upside down virtually over-night when potential death is on our doorstep. What an amazing demonstration of the fact, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
The unprecedented times through which we are passing allow us to slow down, feel our feelings, examine our thoughts, meditate on our actions and re-evaluate our belief systems. My hope is that the wisdom bearers amongst us will be able to use the present circumstances to mobilise human resources to create a more fair and equitable world. And, I predict that it will be the generation of my grandchildren who will come up with the necessary revolutionary perspectives and creative ideas to enable the transformation of human behaviour and its relationship to the environment.