Have you had any arguments with people during lockdown that you didn’t expect? At home, in business or when out and about during your daily ‘allowed’ exercise. I have.
I’m not a confrontational person in normal circumstances – I don’t like conflict and I have never wanted to be one of those people who bounces from crisis to crisis as if that’s all they ever want. I thrive on peace, quiet, on being positive and curiously interested in most things. However I will defend myself if necessary and particularly if I feel someone questions my value.
I’m still that person however during lockdown, I’ve had more conflict than I would normally expect. Why is that? Is it me? Is it them? Or is a combination of both?
Here are some examples of unexpected conflict which have arisen:
*A jogger on my walk started having a verbal ‘go’ at myself and my daughter for ‘taking up the whole path’ during one of our daily walks. I lost my temper and pointed out that she was not local to our community and she did not have right of way (she was coming from behind, not in front).
*A cyclist barrelled into my son from behind on an early morning walk on a canal path, hitting his shoulder. We had heard nothing. We both yelled ‘BELL!!!’ and he shrugged and kept going. No apology, no checking that my son was okay. Just kept going.
*The next day, while our dog was playing in a field catching a ball, a cyclist comes riding through the field and our dog chases him. She does not bite or go for him but runs rings around him until we eventually call her back. A while later we encounter this cyclist with his partner and child and he accuses us of ‘setting our dog on him’. I refute this reminding him that he cycled across a field on the grass in a field where our dog was already off lead and playing. He did back down.
*In my community, I offer to buy a job lot of face masks to distribute which are of good quality from a local supplier. Others pile in to say ‘yes please’ and place orders on social media. I pay for the job lot out of my own funds and then two people pull out – saying it’s too expensive. After I’ve paid for it. I’m not happy that I’m now out of pocket.
*A former client asks one of his team to call me at 5.30pm on a Friday to dispense with my services because of Covid19 saying things like ‘obviously you are a luxury at this time’ and ‘it’s not about you, we’ll be back’ and also ‘do we have to pay for this month?” – they called at the end of March. For me, that’s a poor way to treat a supplier of a service, no conversation with the person who hired you, trying to get out of paying for the work you’ve already done that month. Also you know that the owner of the business is very wealthy – and makes no bones about it – yet he can’t stand by you a much smaller business in any way. He may be back, I won’t be.
What is it about conflict even at a local level at this time? What is bringing all of this about? Once again I ask is it me? is it them? is it Covid19? Does it even matter? Will we all forgive and forget?
I think the answer to these conflicts is that it’s a combination, a perfect storm of stress which has been brought about by this situation and the multiple and continuous messages we are subject to – some right, some wrong – which impact on our behaviour.
How we all behave at this time, particularly in business yet also in life, will have consequences down the line. On both sides of any conflict. For me, there are now clients I will not work with regardless of how much money they want to spend with me, there are neighbours I will not trust again or help out as they thought it was okay to throw me under the financial bus when they have no idea the financial stress upon my family at this time. I also know what that jogger and those cyclists look like and will act accordingly when I see them again – I’m sure I will at some point.
I can perfectly well rationalise and understand my role in all of these little conflicts – however the way I feel about them remains unchanged. I know I’m not perfect and I may not have been ‘right’ or have made the ‘right’ decisions – yet none of that impacts how I feel about these incidents.
How you make someone feel during this crisis will not be forgotten – for good or ill. In business that’s worth considering as it will forge deep and lasting strong relationships in the medium to long term – or it will end them for good.
In the UK the changes to lockdown have been piecemeal and quite vague – and even during lockdown people choose to interpret the rules due to their own experience and their own values. Lockdown when imposed was clear, lifting from lockdown is as clear as mud. Hence there’s another layer of stress in the UK during May.
For me, walking in my own community and in my local area was what was allowed in the initial stages of lockdown – for me, someone jogging miles away from their home was not acceptable so how dare someone tell me off for taking up too much of a very wide path round the corner from my home? I know that jogger doesn’t live locally and I’ve not seen her since. For her, going on a daily run of 5km or whatever may have been entirely within her rules.
Cyclists, for me, there has been a tenfold increase in people using their bikes. There have always been cyclists who use the canal path near my home, however now it’s a crazy number. The canal path is narrow, it goes under a bridge with poor visibility so it’s not safe for any cyclists. Also too many don’t actually ring that handy little gadget called a ‘bell’ and think that’s okay. For that cyclist who knows what he was thinking? that he wouldn’t encounter anyone out at 7.15am on a weekday morning in lockdown? For the cyclist moments, even now I feel justified in losing my temper with those people who think they have right of way over pedestrians – they were not on a designated cycle route in either case, nor were they on a road.
However for many, cycling is a form of daily exercise which they can do as a household, which is fun, which takes them to new places and new sights or they may be regular cyclists anyway who are trying out different routes – so they may come at it from a different angle.
Sadly I think a lot of low level conflict comes from fear. Fear of being touched, fear of someone getting too close, fear of just what is a 2m safe distance when you can’t walk around with a tape measure. Fear of an enemy you cannot see. Or just being on tenter hooks because you are outside – which is now subject to rules that three months ago just didn’t exist. That last year would have been unimaginable.
In business, it’s fear of failure, fear of not having enough money, fear of change, fear of doing things differently, fear of learning new things, fear which doesn’t allow a business owner to consider the feelings of others. It takes great strength to deal with your own fear around your business, still be positive and still give back to your community or to your suppliers and clients. Not everyone has it, not everyone can cope with being positive and for a few, they simply don’t care. It’s beyond them to consider anything outside their own needs. Selfish, uncaring – because they are probably like that anyway.
Set against this is the person who refuses to give in give to fear (and I’m trying to be that person) the person who will obey the rules, however won’t jump into the road around another human being, or hurriedly cover my face when someone glances in my direction. Or in business, dump all of my suppliers, delay paying my bills, refuse to pick up the phone, refuse to try something news. Each day I have to take some positive action, however small, to keep me sane and connected with the world. Which person are you?
Covid19 is a horrible thing and has cost thousands of lives worldwide -however I cannot allow it to invade my very humanity. It also throws into sharp relief the intricacies of someone’s character – their strengths and their flaws. Mine included. You are faced with your own mortality and are sometimes found wanting.
I wanted to help my community and assumed when someone ordered something from me they would honour that – and most did. Some did not and that meant I spent money I should not have spent. Ethically I could not do that to a neighbour of mine – however when it comes to cold, hard cash, people have very different moral codes. I have never wanted to spend time or energy on anyone who operates in a different moral sphere to me.
As a journalist I may often have to interview or deal with people who are not as ethical as they could be – this is not the same as having different opinions or viewpoints. However I don’t have to work with them beyond that. At home, I simply wipe people like that from my life. Once a line has been crossed they don’t exist to me anymore. Yet those kind of lines are different for everybody. I’m sure I’ve crossed ‘lines’ set by others and I accept that.
I wonder what other odd things lockdown will throw up over time? Even with restrictions gradually lifting… only time will tell!
Fiona Scott is a UK journalist with more than 30 years’ experience and runs her own media consultancy.