A piece on tolerance and kindness amidst a global crisis

If you’re reading this, you’re probably having the same difficulties that I’m having in keeping away from social media. Despite restrictions I’ve put in place, the C-word gets a mention pretty much everywhere right now, with armchair activists and social leaders all vying for their own hot take on this global crisis.

In trying to keep myself away, I’m limiting my own output right now. There is a lot of noise out there. Some of it positive, some of it negative, and some of it downright unhelpful. I don’t particularly wish to fall into the latter two categories, nor do I think for one second that my opinion is unique or extraordinarily insightful. Nevertheless, I have something to say, and I cannot let this one go.

“All you’re being asked to do is stay at home and watch telly,” they say. “Stop being so selfish.” Now hang on a minute. A few weeks ago we were signing petitions, making pledges to one another to be kind to other people in all circumstances. But we’re in the middle of a pandemic now, so kindness isn’t cool anymore, right? At least that’s the conclusion I’ve come to, from a quick glance at my social media feeds.

Clearly, we must all take official advice seriously, and I would never advocate against that. So, yes, we all do need to limit our time out of the house. We do need to stay in if we’re unwell. We do need to wash our hands and keep our distance. But if it were that simple, we’d probably never have got to this point.

The “just stay in, it’s that simple” rhetoric is ableist and ignorant. It does not account for the lonely, the poor, the abused, the mentally ill. It invalidates those who face financial dilemmas, those who cling to social stimulation to stay alive, those who don’t have a home to go to. It puts enormous amounts of people at physical and mental risk. It puts individuals and families alike under immense strain. Quite frankly, it jeopardises our human rights as we have come to know them for our entire lives. ‘Simple’ is the very last thing this situation is.

If you have money, a family, and a decent house with a garden, you have a good headstart on this situation. But even these privileges don’t necessarily afford you protection from difficulties. All of us have health needs – physical and mental – and no amount of privilege can mitigate the need for an operation, or therapy.

For those with an uncertain income – whether that be their norm or as a direct result of this crisis – this is nothing less than an excruciatingly worrying time. Small businesses – those who have not already been forced to close – face an impossible dilemma, with a torrent of abuse, no less, from the keyboard criticisers. These people are relying on our custom to put food on the table for themselves – how dare we call them selfish?

Imagine you are out of work anyway – for whatever reason – and the only thing that gets you through each week is going to appointments or clubs. Imagine you are elderly, or unwell, or bereaved, and rely on a string of social activities or support groups to keep your spirits up. You might be battling an addiction, recovering from cancer or planning your son’s funeral. And now – suddenly – you’re no longer able to receive the support that keeps you here. An email, a phone call or a visit to a website is the stand-in for the weeks and months of support you’ve become accustomed to.

Put yourselves in the shoes of a child whose only escape from a world of abuse and neglect is the school building. Stuck at home full-time with parents who ignore their basic needs and damage their wellbeing: there is no denying the considerable and potentially devastating consequences.

The fact is, none of us can predict the significant impact this situation will have on millions of people across the world. There will be deaths that have nothing to do with the virus itself. There will be lifelong trauma to deal with. There will be irreparable scars. We cannot stop or eliminate this damage. But we can think about we say. We can think about those less fortunate than us, and we can give them our support.

Before you post that lecture on social media, before you name and shame, before you reprimand fellow human beings: take one second of your day to reflect on what the person next door to you might be feeling right now. Extend your thoughts and goodwill to the voiceless and defenceless. Don’t judge what you don’t know, and don’t invalidate each other’s experiences. We really do only have each other at the end of the day. Let’s not ruin that too.

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