Here in Singapore where I live, it feels like we have been in quarantine (‘circuit breaker’ as it is called here) for at least one lifetime.
Today, I made my weekly trip to the grocery store, wearing a facial mask. The temperature was around 30 degrees centigrade, with a high level of humidity (77%).
On that short trip, I went through a spate of emotions. I felt irritated at having to wear the mask in such a temperature; felt gratitude that most others were also wearing masks in solidarity; felt annoyance when someone crept up behind me – coming far too close – and clicking on the QR code at the entrance to the shopping mall because I guess she was in more of a hurry than me as I had stopped to put on my protective latex gloves…
A jumble of positive and negative emotions.
What I am more positive about amidst this awful tragedy is that according to social – and mainstream – media, people around the world are showing more empathy, understanding, collaboration and yes – even vulnerability. We sure are in new territory here.
People – business leaders, some political leaders, and highly principled individuals, such as established thought leader and influencer, Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of the inspiring platform, Thrive Global, are leading the charge towards rebooting humanity.
Yes! We are finally allowed – encouraged even – to express fears, doubts, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and imperfections. To show that we are living, breathing human beings.
This is an astonishing feat, while just six months ago, we were still ogling so-called celebrities, while scrolling aimlessly on social media.
Surely, something good will come of all of this.
That said: while I am fervently devoted to the new vulnerability and the more acute awareness of humanity that this crisis has provoked in myself and others, that same awareness has made me realize that there is another side to the ‘human emergence’ story that is not so positive. That is: how we act in public amidst the pandemic.
And I raise my own hand in guilt here.
This takes me back to the story about my trip to the grocery store.
I found myself obeying the guidance, taking the less travelled route to the store, shunning other human beings along the way, pulling up my mask (just to be sure I was isolated) putting on my sunglasses and – okay, now that we’re all about full disclosure – I held my breath while passing another human being in the street.
I did. I really did.
Not proud of that, but that is what I did.
And that is what I have been doing all the time during this crisis.
So, where does that leave me on the scale of human empathy If I’m holding my breath in front of another human being?
I confess that I am conflicted. I am between two places.
We humans are creatures of duality. Good/bad; positive/negative. Our decisions are driven by either love or fear. My personal mindset during the current lockdown is mostly based on gratitude for my life – family, friends, and hope for the future. At the same time, this gratitude – an expression of love – is mirrored by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of how others might scupper the re-entry and compromise my future.
There’s clearly a gap between the vulnerability and empathy I and many others have recognized to be essential to taking the next step towards a safe re-opening of our society and the actual reality of how we behave towards one another in the street or the grocery store.
Who knows? That guy pinching the avocados ahead of you may be the one who will infect you, or you might infect someone who comes after you at the payment touchscreen.
There is a dilemma here.
My conclusion is that it might be best for all of us to assume that we are all carrying the virus – that we are all COVID positive – and that the only way we will get over this and build a better future is to treat each other as if we are meeting ourselves whenever we meet another human being in the street or the store.
You are Me. I am You.
Having been an avid Latin language student at school (I won’t call that being a Latin ‘scholar’) I always find myself being triggered by word associations. Here’s one I’ll share with you: COVID.
In Latin, ‘Co’ means’ Together’ and ‘Vid’ comes from the verb’ videre’ and means’ to see’. Seeing. Together.
What if: the COVID crisis is a nudge from beyond for humanity to envision a new world – together?
Even if that’s just a wild coincidence, why not just take it and run with it?
Just a thought.