Ah, those were the days hey?
It seems a long, long time ago when the UK Parliament was paralysed, and all you would see in the newspapers and on the television was Brexit, Brexit, bloody Brexit.
And then, it happened. Boris Johnson was elected to ‘Get Brexit Done’ and… nothing.
Well, that’s not quite true. There will have been lots going on behind the scenes of course, but for you and I – the masses – day-to-day life remained the same. No doubt changes will be seen over time, but our release from the shackles of Europe and the return of our sovereignty has made, frankly, naff all difference to my life so far.
2020 arrived with the promise that we could move forward towards a brave new world. Well, life had other plans.
A few months ago we hadn’t even heard of Coronavirus. Now, seemingly overnight, life as we know it has been blown apart by it. Nobody could have predicted what the first few months of this year would bring, and nobody can predict what the next few months will bring.
In times of uncertainty it’s natural to feel worried and anxious. We face huge challenges, physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and financially. Challenges that are unprecedented in our lifetime. But. But…
I started writing five years ago to help me through a very difficult time in my life. Writing enabled me to – or rather, forced me to – find the positives in adversity and suffering. My life has shown me that even the worst things that happen to us can ultimately turn out to be for the best.
And, while of course I recognise that at an individual level lives are being tragically lost and I am by no means minimising that, on a wider, social level, perhaps we can look ahead with hope and optimism that good things can come out of the current crisis.
So, amongst the bad news and the worry, let me shine a ray of light and consider some potential reasons to be cheerful.
We all know that life has become increasingly busy over recent years. Many of us are constantly on the go, with barely a moment to take a step back to consider where all the rushing about is getting us, nor whether it’s where we really want to go. Sometimes we push ourselves too far and we break down, either physically or mentally, and we are forced to stop. To re-evaluate.
Maybe we need to do this as a society? Maybe this presents an opportunity to consider where we are, and in what direction we want to go. Maybe a break will do us good.
Over the course of the last few years Britain became a very divided nation, divided by a single issue, defined by the differences in our opinions. Right now, our opinions don’t matter.
Coronavirus doesn’t care for what we think about it; beating it depends on following scientific, medical expertise. That means social isolation. But in committing ourselves to social isolation, rather than separating from each other, we can, in a deeper sense, come closer together.
By sharing the pain and the sacrifice that it will take to beat this, we can relate to each other at a profound level; facilitated by the social media and technology which, in many ways, have diluted our deeper connections, but will now enable us to maintain our connections in the most trying of circumstances.
There are many things that make Britain ‘Great’, but perhaps nothing exemplifies what it means to be British more than our community spirit. It is through community that we will rise to the challenges that the next few months promise to bring.
It is through shopping for neighbours, checking in on each other to see how we are, using British humour to raise the spirits and put smiles on our faces, donating to food banks, and inspiring each other by sharing our experiences of how we are adapting to circumstances none of us could have imagined.
It is the millions of small acts of kindness that will be carried out quietly, selflessly, and regularly.
I see this community spirit everyday in my job working on a volunteering project and have been inspired by the lengths people go to to help others. We need this more than ever and I have no doubt that we will be seeing many examples of the very best of human nature over the coming weeks and months.
Getting our priorities right
I am inspired by the work of volunteers everyday, but there is another side to this. I see individuals, and charitable and voluntary organisations, doing the most amazing work to help others, and it makes me wonder where our communities would be without them? The elderly woman that lives alone, without any family to help her. Or the autistic child and his parents that are given care and respite. These are services that many people cannot live without.
Remember Big Society? Yet what has happened to our communities over the last decade?
Local authorities and care services have been cut to the bone, essential workers struggle on low and frozen pay and have to rely on benefits to get by, families rely on food banks, libraries and Sure Start centres have closed, and people that give their care, compassion and hard work to their communities are labelled as ‘low skilled’. It’s nothing short of a national disgrace and we should be ashamed.
We are constantly kept up-to-date on share prices and the health of our economy, as if the health of our society is a direct consequence of the economy. Yet as billionaire Richard Branson asks staff to work for nothing for 8 weeks, who is keeping our country going right now?
Never has there been a better opportunity to realign our values with what, and who, really matters. ‘I’m alright Jack’ just isn’t going to cut it anymore. For too long pounds and profits have been put above people.
We are living through a chapter of future history books; the following chapters must show a change in our priorities.
Our society, which relies so much on community when in crisis, must be built on community.
A compassionate revolution
We live under the illusion of control. But life is a fragile thing, both in terms of mortality and in terms of the day-to-day shape of our lives.
‘Life can change forever in a moment’ is the first line of the back page blurb of my book, ‘Something Changed’. I’ve had the ground pulled from underneath my feet by mental illness, had my whole world broken apart and found how little help there is to put it back together.
Statutory Sick Pay will not keep a roof over most of our heads. Yet most of us exist under the illusion that our life is stable and secure, that we would never have to rely on handouts or charity. We might even judge harshly those that do.
We only learn our lesson the hard way – when it happens to us. I used to regularly say to people, ‘It can happen to any of us’. Not anymore.
It has happened. To all of us.
My own struggles led to greater compassion and empathy for the struggles that others are facing, and a wish to do what I can to help them. It is my greatest hope that a more caring, compassionate, and less judgemental society emerges from isolation.
Where instead of asking, ‘why should we help them?’ more of us will ask, ‘what can we do to help them?’
It’s all about the people
When we look back on this chapter of our lives, what will we remember? It will be the people that we shared it with. The times we laughed together, the times we cried together, and the people that loved us and were there for us throughout it all.
Keep your loved ones close, even when you’re having to stay apart, and, as Coronavirus fades into the collective memory, never forget just how precious they are.