I have been coaching this past week and thinking about the strange times that we are in. There is a collectiveness to this experience, a globalness and I can’t think of another situation which has impacted on us all, nearly simultaneously. There has been a desperation for basic needs to be fulfilled, and who would have thought that in this country to start with, that largely meant toilet roll, flour, pasta and tins of stuff.
There has been a return to the foundations of what’s necessary. Security, food, water, shelter, connection and purpose. The principles of Maslow. Exercise every day. Eat as well as you can with the food that you have. An email advert arrived in my in box for a handbag that I had been vaguely interested in some months ago. The handbag that I could now use to walk to the kitchen and back. Maybe take into the garden at the weekend. The advert that alluded to the new life that the bag would bring. A now laughable advert in the context of the current preoccupation. Will I live?
There has been a scramble for businesses to start new sidelines, new ways of working. A field of red tape has been hacked through in the public sector as the collective minds have had to be focused on how to make the best of limited numbers of people in a battlefield situation. The old cultural, technological barriers torn down as the now common enemy is prepared for.
It seems to me that there is return to basics here. What I mean by that is the preciousness which once existed seems no longer relevant. Basic examples like companies allowing or trusting people to work at home. The choices now largely gone for lots of people who are office based. They either work at home or they don’t work. The clapping in the street signifying the new reverence with which we now collectively hold our NHS staff, social care and care workers, shop workers, delivery drivers etc the people who have no choice but to face the front line, protected or not.
Connection and community has never been more important in these times. The new neighbourhood whatsapp groups, the thankfulness for neighbours guarding over far away parents, the digital parties, virtual pubs, countless digital communications in the form of messages, texts, videos and emails. Phone calls. Facetime. Zoom for EVERYTHING. All that change and flexibility and all that care and kindness. Over 750,000 people volunteering to help the NHS. All that virtual unity and digital love.
Emotionally, there has been a roller coaster. Some people have likened it to grief, the writings of Kubler Ross who talks about denial (this won’t affect me), anger (I deserve to have that last packet of toilet rolls), bargaining (if I just go to the beach this one last time), depression (I feel so helpless and hopeless, will this ever end) and acceptance (this is here to stay for a while, how can I make the best of what I have). It’s not always a linear process. Personally, when I clocked the enormity of what was unfolding, I jumped into jittery action – setting up a virtual school group and virtual reflective writing group within moments of each other. Talking, messaging, videoing, zooming, emailing, anything for connection while trying to make sense of the enormity. That was the last fortnight. This week is more about quietness. Sitting with the still. Writing about it.
With the giant supermarkets failing to meet the demand of the masses, the local providers are coming to the fore. The farm shops, the local businesses, the restaurants, anyone who can find a way of taking their wares to the streets are finding new pockets of business everywhere. I was messaging our local fruit and veg provider yesterday while thanking them for the abundant box that had been delivered. I was asking about whether they would carry on the diversification into serving households once the current situation had abated. Their previous experience was that whilst people love the boxes, they tend to return to their old habits (supermarket shopping) very quickly. Almost as soon as the novelty has worn off.
So what will happen next? For most of us, we won’t be able to outwit the virus. If it doesn’t catch up with us personally then it will impact on us with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and people we know being affected. The uncontainable enormity that is being broadcast every nanosecond of the day should you care to keep up with it, can still be managed on an individual level in the ways we already know.
Wash your hands. Wash your frequently touched surfaces. Keep your social distance. Stay at home.
But actually, what I ponder about is what will happen next, when the awful novelty has worn off, when we know more people that have had it than haven’t, when a vaccine arrives, when we can leave our houses, go to cafes, cinemas, theatres, coffee shops, restaurants, beaches, holidays, shops, bowling alleys, climbing walls again. What will happen? will the kindness, the agility, the cultural shift towards community and connection last? will we work in different ways? will we learn? will we collectively taught by this experience and will we have a new normal?