Let’s Talk About… COVID-19 and Beauty in the Chaos

Let’s Talk About… COVID-19 and Beauty in the Chaos

We are living in unprecedented times. Our lives have changed in significant ways and there is no way for us to know the extent it will continue to shift or how long this will last. Hell, we have no idea if things will ever be the same again…and maybe that’s a good thing. As COVID-19 began to unfold we moved from society (a majority, not all) underestimating the seriousness of the outbreak to a panicked call to follow the experts’ instructions.

WE NEED TO FLATTEN THE CURVE; COVID-19 IS NOT GOING TO MAGICALLY DISAPPEAR.

We need to give our scientists a fighting chance, we need to ease the strain on hospitals, medical staff and resources. We need to ensure that people are limiting their potential to spread the disease to those who are vulnerable. We need people to think beyond themselves and realise that hoarding household essentials and medicine they don’t need is detrimental to people who need those things. Wash your hands, self-isolate, look after each other (even if that might be virtually), and remember that essential things like grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors and hospitals will remain open.

But boy, has this pandemic highlighted some of the broken systems embedded in our lives across the world. Governments who arrogantly thought that they were special and above the interests of a faceless indiscriminatory enemy. A hidden systemic racism that made the spread of the virus worse. Companies that constantly preached that remote work wasn’t possible for those unable to work at 100% capacity suddenly had the ability to move their entire staff to isolated conditions practically overnight.

There was a clear shift that spelled out sectors of the work force that were looked down upon were, in fact, important pillars for making the world go around. People suddenly realised all the work teachers do, the importance of basic hygiene (were people not washing their hands before?) and the pitfalls others face when trying to get help from government institutions, who apparently, have absolutely no clue what the right course of action is during a crisis.

It has also become abundantly clear that the higher-ups in this world really have no understanding about the rest of the world.

I’ve seen universities give 24-hours for lecturers to translate their entire curriculum to online education while letting grad students lose teaching positions. Utterly ridiculous.

I’ve seen governments say, “Hi. Yes. We’ll provide a stimulus. But only to Harry and not Sally…and only if you finish this extensive marathon you haven’t trained for. Why are you yelling at me, I’m helping you? I’m in the same position as you.” Said, of course, from the privileged ivory tower penthouse. They have said, “You should have copious amounts of savings for a day such as this.” Only for the rest of the world to say, “Wait a second, our society is built on a foundation that favours the few and forces a lot of people to rely on only ourselves.” Makes you wonder why, doesn’t it?

There was misinformation aplenty. There was a distrust in our leaders. There still is. Find the right sources to listen to and follow their recommendations.

But oh, what a world we live in! Where stock markets crash, millions lose their jobs, and the arbitrary infrastructure in place buckles under the weight. Where a crisis happens, a literal pandemic, and the big guy keeps looking after himself, insurers reject claims, banks offer help that isn’t really help, companies don’t offer paid leave, airlines and hotels don’t offer refunds and citizens are left high-and-dry trapped overseas while border after border close.

There is no universality, no real global governance or mateship for a common enemy. Heavens help us if aliens ever attack; half of us would have thrown the other half under the bus before they even landed. No offense to the aliens. Who am I to judge your way of life when humans are the way they are sometimes.

Actually, aliens, while I have you on the line, humanity is worth saving, I promise. We have so much to offer, I’ve seen it – love and compassion and reciprocity and empathy and art and meaning and creativity and knowledge – we’re worth it, we just go a bit loopy here and there.

Now back to the impacts of COVID-19.

I was thinking about how most countries are in or heading towards lockdown with forced or self-isolation in effect. It’s resulted in a world that has shifted even more into the virtual. We already had lives embedded with technology and the internet, but our ability to extend our lives and experiences online has really gone up a notch. We might not be near each other, but we are arguably more connected than ever…or maybe it’s just that there are more people embracing the practices of internet enthusiasts present pre-coronageddon. Group video conferencing has been a lifesaver for researchers, staff meetings and friends having a Netflix party.

On the other hand, social distancing has made normally bustling squares and markets empty. There were (fake) accounts of the canals in Venice clear enough to see swans, fish and dolphins swimming, of elephants frolicking and drinking wine in China. It added to a discourse circulating about this virus giving Nature a chance to breathe after all the pollution we produce and climate crisis we face. But the interesting thing is that the eerie monuments and tourist attractions is related to what can be seen when people are missing from the picture. The New York Times just released a piece on the beauty in the vacant expanses. I highly recommend it. Find it here.

But the article got me thinking about the silent beauty in the absence of normality. How places and physical constructs still emit the humanity that made them possible: the history, the life, and the experiences that played out to have it exist in a way that means everything is connected. There is a power in meaning that is fundamentally a base characteristic of the human sentiment. Where this elementary disposition of humans involves leaving a mark on the world physically and symbolically that is both intentional and unplanned.

How will we speak about this mad period we’re living in right now in a few years? What will be the defining factors remembered when all is said and done?

Last year, my MPhil thesis spoke a lot to ‘publics’, in particular, networked publics, which is particularly pertinent to the way sociality plays out in virtual contexts. Find it here. The times we live in now just highlight the ability of humans to create imagined spaces for social participation and discourse and reflexive communities that shift in a boundless state of engagement to find a sense of belonging.

I would like to leave you with a few things to help your fellow humans:

Introverts, you are probably feeling the most comfortable right now (pandemic existential crisis notwithstanding). Check in on your extroverted friends, they’re probably struggling.

Don’t keep yourself locked away. It’s isolating enough (literally and mentally), reach out and forgive yourself for not being able to adjust immediately, there’s an art to working from home.

Some families and couples get to spend more time together which is probably both a good and a bad thing in some cases. Appreciate it for what it is. Learn and grow together.

Also, bathe in the sun a little, even if it’s in your driveway.

If you are in the position to do so, help your local businesses out. Everyone has been affected by this. Get a takeaway coffee, buy a gift card, encourage them to open up to deliveries.

Wash your damn hands and self-isolate. Let’s slow this thing down together while not being physically near one another.

Spare a thought for all those who have been affected; all the lives that have been lost, for the people who are suffering from contracting the illness or their family and friends being sick. Think peripheral impact of COVID-19: the nurses and doctors sleeping away from their loved ones while putting strangers first, grocery store and delivery staff working on overtime. People are losing their jobs, fighting mental health issues, and cancelling funerals, birthdays and weddings. A lot of people are scared of what the future holds and they’re stumbling their way through this new way of life like the rest of us…We’ll get through this, we just might not recognise the world we end up in.

Then again, maybe it will take more than a global pandemic to change the broken system we love to hate.

Be safe. – Naomi Eleanor

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