I can’t wait for this pandemic to be over. Of course, it is partly because social isolation is tough, it is tiring to cook for myself and the kids all the time, it is lonely not to see my friends, and it is very unsettling and uncertain if I allow myself to think about the economic consequences.
But if I set aside all the negative that inevitably comes with it, there is something great to look forward, and I can’t wait to see how the new world will be.
You must have heard or even said yourself that the world is never going to be the same after this is over. It sounds daunting — because we are used to this world. We might not love every part of it, but at least, we know it and familiar is good, while change is bad — in most people’s minds.
But there is an aspect to the forthcoming change that is more of a promise than a threat.
The world won’t be the same, and we won’t be the same either. We are changing with the circumstances because this is what we are good at — humans have evolved into our present versions by continuously adapting. We have survived the ice age, we survived wars, famine and plague — and they changed us.
We are adapting gradually — and none of us can escape from the consequences. There won’t be a brand new world, because we are shaping ourselves right now to match future expectations. We are changing our ways and mindsets every day, little by little, accepting what is and working with what we have.
I am looking forward to what comes after — because we have the time and chance to use this time as an opportunity to get better.
But the question is, what do we take away from it. How will we change? What will we keep? What messages will we remember from this time?
These would be my messages to keep:
1. Stop glorifying busyness
I have never liked the word hustle because no matter how common it is these days, it still rings negative for me. It means something too aggressive, too forced, too artificial. Even if in its current business meaning it lost its sense of fraud and cheating, it still has a negative connotation.
We are glorifying busyness and we admire overachievers. Accomplishments are reached with an extreme amount of work, thousands of hours, perfection and continuous improvement. We keep hustling to make money, to impress others, to show how successful we are. And we keep busy to distract ourselves from other priorities. We prioritise our work over our kids or partner, we ignore friends because we need to self-actualise so badly that we forget what self are we feeding.
These days are making us slow down. They tell us that we have time and distractions work only to a certain extent. We have time to spend with our kids and partners. We have time to reach out to our friends and call our parents.
I hope we will remember that busyness is not a virtue.
2. Stop hoarding things
I don’t even talk about toilet paper or insane amounts of food — but there is a definite need to stop hoarding those. As far as it looks, if no one is overdoing the hoarding of food, then we are fine, the stores will be stocked and whenever we need, we can get toilet paper, canned food and fresh food too.
But more importantly, the message I would want to take away from this situation is that we don’t need that many things to live a meaningful life. We don’t need another pair of shoes every week, we don’t need to hoard clothes and technical gadgets, we don’t really need a new car. Talking to people and their feelings, no one ever told me that they miss the useless hours they spent at shopping malls. No one said that they wished they had more luxury brand handbags and another expensive watch. People don’t miss these, they miss going out for a walk, hugging their mums and meeting their friends or loved ones.
This time teaches us that material goods are worth less than human connection and experiences. Hoarding — in a broader sense — is useless and it clearly doesn’t bring happiness.
I hope we will remember that our time, energy and effort, our friendships and relationships are worth more than the things that we surround ourselves with.
3. Revaluate connections
We are connected — all of us, together. Technology, travelling, mobility connect us — this is how this virus could become a pandemic. We are carrying the burden of being connected to each other.
Now it is time to rethink connectedness — because we have to. We are connected, we are in this together, no one is immune to what is happening at the other side of the world, it affects everyone.
These days we need to learn that we are responsible for others — by staying home we are saving the world from our couches, by self-isolation and discipline we are doing a favour to each other, like never before. We are responsible for the human race, individually on a global scale.
And in the meantime, we need to realise that we cannot survive without each other — mentally and emotionally too. We need a connection that goes beyond superficial Facebook statuses and tweets. We can’t do this life alone, we need to know that we are seen and heard and understood. And this individual need connects us to others who feel exactly the same. We need to rethink how we connect and which connections we value. We will lose people and we will gain new people — and as it should be, people who matter, who share the same values or go through the same hardships will come and stay in our lives.
I hope we will remember this sense of responsibility and connection when this is all over — to have more meaningful conversations and better relationships.
4. Our mental health is paramount
There are already studies and discussions among psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who are worried about the mental state of the world. The health implications of the pandemic are getting clear for everyone — we all understand what’s at stake, we understand why lockdowns and social distancing is important and we responsibly decide to stay away from even our family members to keep everyone safe.
But the mental toll of it is just beginning. Isolation used to be a punishment and it was threatening our survival. We are humans, we need our communities, we need to belong, we need to be with other people. Regardless of being an introvert or an extrovert, falling into any category in the Myers-Briggs test — we need others, that’s beyond doubt.
And while we are self-isolating and realising day after day how difficult it is, we need to take care of our mental health. We need to regulate our anxiety, we need to tame our fears, we need to manage our depression. The previously stigmatised mental stated are becoming the new norm — it’s only natural to be anxious and down and even if there is a good reason for it (like there is always a reason for depression and panic attacks) we still need to deal with it without dissecting why it is happening to us.
We need to learn to ask for help and seek self-help to survive the loneliness, the uncertainty, the difficulties. And we are learning it. We are experiencing it first hand how it feels to wake up with crippling anxiety, even if we usually don’t have anxiety attacks. We see how debilitating it is to go through our days depressed and how it is impossible to snap out of it.
I hope that we will remember that our mental health is not laziness, lack of discipline or anything to put a stigma on. It is a natural side-effect of our days, depending on our sensitivity. I hope we will be more tolerant and caring about people who suffer from it on a daily basis.
5. We don’t get to take things for granted
Back in January, before it all happened, the electricity had been switched off in my flat for days due to an administrative fault. I was trying to get by in the dark flat, with no lights, no refrigerator, no electric kettle to boil water and drink a coffee. I was thinking in a frenzy about ways how to charge my laptop and my phone so that I could still work. I was reading by candle-light for a few nights. I was helpless. I never thought about how much I was dependent on having electricity. Thankfully the heating operates from a different system, so at least the flat was warm.
When this pandemic hit, my worst dystopian nightmares involved not having electricity, gas and water. I imagined horrible images of empty shelves and litter scattered on the street. It didn’t happen. Electricity is on, heating is on, there is drinking water coming from the tap. I have wi-fi. I have mobile data on my phone. I can go and buy fresh bread just across the street, and there are fresh tomatoes and lettuce in the nearby store. I can buy a bottle of wine and I can light a candle if I want to.
But it could be much worse, and some are having it worse than me — or you reading it.
We don’t get to take things for granted. We took our health care workers for granted. The teachers. The cashier at the store. The farmers who grow the tomatoes. It is not to be taken for granted — it is something to be extremely grateful for.
I hope we will remember that nothing is for granted and everything can be gone overnight. I hope we will use this knowledge to be more appreciative towards the invisible workers who make our lives easier, who provide with the goods that we have and the food that we eat.
I hope when it is all over, we will change for the better. I hope we will take away the right messages. I hope we will be more compassionate, more responsible, more tolerant, more patient, more grateful.
I think I would like to live in a world full of compassionate, responsible, tolerant, patient and grateful people. How about you?