Is it too soon to silver line COVID-19?
“Even in our grimmest moments, we can hold despair in one hand, and hope in the other.”
When so many are losing people they love, jobs, businesses, apparent futures, it has seemed too soon and gratingly overly positive to attempt to silver line COVID-19. This disease has taken over our lives, with many of us feeling terrified of what tomorrow may bring. There is no doubt that this pandemic will have a profoundly negative impact on our society. But while it is clear that the pandemic will be highly disruptive and cause significant economic losses, should we be searching for positive side effects? We have no precedent of an event where every human being is influenced by it. There is no playbook.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl documented his years in a concentration camp, observing who survived and why. He concluded that those who expected the trauma to be over by a certain date didn’t fare as well as those who were able to find meaning and purpose in their circumstances. He wrote “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Right now, paying attention to the world, to the beauty in it, and to each other is crucial if we are to navigate toward a new normal collectively. Maybe these are some silver linings from COVID-19:
Empathy for our most vulnerable people – we have seen the most vulnerable groups in our society suffer the most during COVID-19: the casually employed, the poor, the elderly, the homeless, the victims of domestic abuse. But the welfare of the most privileged is dependent upon meeting the basic needs of the most marginalised. This experience might make those of us from privileged segments of society appreciate how truly horrible it is to be cut out from the opportunity to go to work or attend events, and from other aspects of our daily life that we are so used to taking for granted.
Remote working – organisations are taking a real-time look at the effects of prolonged off-site work and its relation to productivity. This may sustain greater inclusivity and work:life balance on the other side. We are discovering new ways of collaboration and our paradigm of social interaction is radically transforming. We are also realising what has always been true – people bring their whole selves to work and wellbeing is person’s core purpose. Employee wellbeing is the foundation for everything else. And business metrics must shift moving forward to honour that truth.
Who we listen to and value – The views of celebrity seem to have been set aside for those of the knowledgeable, like epidemiologists, doctors and public health experts. Celebrity culture has seemed painfully tone deaf, with pictures of extravagant lifestyles jarring when society locks down, the economy stalls, the death count mounts and everyone’s future is frozen inside their own homes. Vicarious access to celebrity lifestyles feels intolerable right now. And at the same time, historically underpaid and undervalued health workers are saving our lives by risking their own and teachers and cleaners and retail workers are the new essential workers. Maybe they always were. We are not asking celebrities for their opinion on much these days.
The environment – COVID-19 may allow some kind of environmental reset and give our planet a little time to heal. Images from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and NASA satellite footage, show pollution rates dropping. China has now banned the trade and consumption of non-aquatic wild animals as a result of the pandemic. Wildlife is reclaiming quieter streets, with a kangaroo filmed jumping through CBD Adelaide yesterday and deer in UK suburbs roaming freely.
Human connection and meaning – there is potential for increase in human connection despite social distancing, and a grounding in enduring values. The constant pressure to be better can be relaxed for now. It’s perfectly OK to slow down and not give into the perpetual pressure of always working to be better because those productivity ideals can be just as toxic as laziness and procrastination during self-isolation. We are now able to focus on what’s always been of the highest importance: love, compassion, connection. This is a beautiful window of opportunity.
Elephant in the room – the COVID-19 elephant in all our rooms right now represents illness, mortality, financial insecurity, loss, and loneliness, along with unexpected moments of grace and resolve. In this new normal, there is no “business as usual”. Residual trauma will be an unwelcome inhabitant in us all when we’re on the other side. But, ending pretending to each other can offer freedom, relief, and validation. Being authentic can elevate our patience, empathy and compassion towards one another.
We are being invited to find light amidst the darkness. We are all in this together. To discover our resilience and deepen social capital. Gratitude builds grit and grace. As we individually and collectively rise and rebuild, we may just uncover gifts of post-traumatic growth like a centering of priorities, clarified core values, stronger connections with friends and loved ones and an enhanced appreciation for life. We are navigating towards a new normal which has the potential to be not just different, but better than the one we left behind.