Creating Communities that Care through Covid-19

Schools will close

So..by the time you read this the decision may have been made, if not I strongly predict that schools will be closed by the end of the week and that we will be in ‘lock down’ and told to ‘socially distance’.  Already, many corporates have had their employees working from home and have cancelled face to face meetings.

So, let’s think about what is to come and what we can control.  None of us can control if we get covid or not nor how badly it will effect us or those who we love and that frightens me.  Nor do we know how long our much needed and much underfunded NHS will be able to look after us.

But what we do know is this; that there will be parts of society who will suffer much more than others; people on zero hour contracts won’t get paid if they don’t work, nor will the self-employed or small business owners.  They will no doubt keep trying to work even as their customers stay away thereby putting themselves at increased risk of catching covid.  It will be the children of these people who are most vulnerable as when the schools shut, they may not have the social connections around them to look after them.

There is no one who is dispensable

For me, it shines a light on how our priorities as a society have been so wrong for so long.  The whole rhetoric of this virus is of dispensability; it ‘only affects the ‘old’ and ‘those with underlying conditions’ like these are not people with families and value.  In so many more ‘primitive’ cultures, older people are looked after with great respect because they have years of wisdom and experience the younger generation have not time to collect and yet here we are as a society feeling safer because it attacks ‘them’ not ‘us’.

But covid sees no ‘them’ and ‘us’, it just wants hosts.  It has not discriminated by gender, sexuality, nationhood, religion or political affiliation.  In many ways it will be a great leveler for a world which has lost it’s way.  Which is not to say that I am not scared of my children dying, of me dying and leaving them alone too young, of friends and family dying.

What the scientists say

I am afraid and I think this is a rational response to a threat that we have only nascent understanding of.  Anyone who is still saying that it just like flu, has not been reading and understanding what the scientists are saying such as the open letter here urging the government to take stronger measures on social distancing and 200 behavioural scientists supporting them from their own fields, arguing against the government’s stance on behavioural fatigue.  There are such mixed views on what to do for the best when no one has experienced anything like it before.

Survival of the fittest

I have also heard people saying it’s all ‘survival of the fittest’; Darwinianism based on the smug self-satisfied safety.  I would have died during my first birth.  My son would have died many times from his asthma attacks.  How many of us would have died without immunizations, without interventions, without the NHS?  This ‘survival of the fittest’ argument is the same one which allows us to turn a blind eye to poverty, famine, floods ‘over there’.  We have pulled the golden ticket by living in our parts of the world. Until now.

We need to be like trees

Now we need to collaborate and if we are going to use nature as a metaphor there is no better place to look than trees.  Trees whose root structures go deep underground linking and supporting the old and the young, the healthy and the ill.  At this time, we need to act like trees sending out roots and shoots to those in our woods, because if one tree falls, the whole eco-system is weaker for it and we know that this virus will see trees fall.

There is a danger when we are scared that we go into flight ( lock ourselves away safely and don’t look out for anyone else), fight (take all the toilet roll and keep it for yourself even if someone else needs it), freeze (do what the government tells us to do without thinking for ourselves or go into denial ‘it’s just like flu’, ‘it only effects the old’) or flock (a bit like freeze, doing what everyone else does without thinking things through).

So understanding the severity of the situation is necessary in order to understand what can and can’t be controlled.  We can’t magic up nurses and doctors from no-where but we can make sure we are not putting our self in the way of the virus so as to avoid overwhelming NHS staff.  We do not know who has it and who hasn’t, but we can limit who we come into contact with and how we do it.

Practical ways we can look after each other

We also need to see that we have more power than we think and can make a difference to our own communities rather than waiting for big brother Boris to sort it out for us.  If ever there was a time to decentralize, this is it.

So what can we do to look after all the trees in our woods?

  • Physically distance yourself  – bugger herd immunity and read what the scientists are saying (above).  If you physically distance yourself, you can’t catch it or pass it on and so save the NHS and other people.  I don’t like the words ‘self-isolate’  we do not need more isolation at a time like this and it is inaccurate.
  • De-isolate yourself – at this stressful time the last thing we need to do is to shut ourselves in and away.  We are so fortunate to have telephones, the internet and all the various messaging and video-calling apps and platforms.  At this time it is crucial to stay in touch, to get support from each other
  • Set up a local Facebook group – and I mean really local – your block, your estate, your road.  Then use this to connect with each other.  If there are people around you who can’t work or don’t have technology to connect with, then give them your old laptops and send the person in your family who is least at risk around to their house to teach them how to connect.
  • Use the Facebook group to:
    • Share tips for how to look after each other
    • Organise shopping trips or deliveries so that only one person is going out at a time, who has the virus and needs food or toilet roll dropping off.
    • Get to know the people around you because when (and it is only a matter of time) we are all at home, these are the people who on hand to do things for you if they can.
  • Set up a phone system to connect with people who live alone or are vulnerable; bring them in, don’t shut them out.
  • Shop in local stores.  Keep small businesses going and also avoid putting yourself at risk by going to larger stores
  • Continuing paying small businesses even if you can’t use their services this month, or the next, or the next.  If you love the massage you can’t get to, the indie-coffee shop you aren’t going to, the family run bed and breakfast where you can’t at the moment take your weekend breaks – why not pay them anyway?  You have budgeted for it and without your money they won’t survive.  If we keep investing in these small, local businesses we are not only looking after our own interests in keeping them going, but we are doing that which government isn’t, we are showing we care enough about other people to invest in them.
  • Set up local (street, block, estate) food banks for those who need them so they don’t have to travel so far.
  • Buy, eat  and waste less so you have to go to the shops less, so that there is less strain on producers who may be hit.  Most of us consume way too much
  • Share your skills locally. I’m a teacher so when the schools close, I’ll be on line for the kids I teach but also anyone else’s kids who I can help with either their studies or their worries.  If you’re a working from home accountant, can you help out the small businesses who are struggling?  If you are a carpenter and these winds continue to rattle fences and roofs can you be the person locally who shows up to fix that.  And to do it for free.  Because we can. Because if one tree falls, all our roots are a bit stronger.
  • Sponsor people – if the neighbour’s kids can’t afford to use some of the on-line learning platforms below – pay for them yourself, if you neighbour would like to join an on-line group for support but can’t afford the fee – pay for it, if they need to upgrade to a faster broadband – pay for it.
  • Share what you are doing with your family.  How are you occupying small children who can’t go to soft play or the cinema?  Or teenagers who are bored and want to stay in bed all day?
  • Structure your days – don’t just surrender to endless scrolling and snoozing.  Keep a routine going include:
    • Some time moving/exercising (outside if you are lucky enough to have your own garden).  walk, do star jumps, learn yoga or Tai Chi on line, dance in the kitchen, do squats by the door.
    • Some learning – use Udemy, Moocs, or FutureLearn
    • Some social time – on phones, messages, chats
    • Some social play – cards, monopoly etc
    • Some silent reading
    • some creativity – making food, gardening, learning to knit or sew or saw
    • some time alone
    • time collectively – doing something together with the other people in your house
    • some mindfulness or meditation
  • Re-prioritise your life and values, to learn what you always wanted.
  • Think for yourself – what more can you do to support yourself and those around you?
  • Thank people who have meant something to you – Phone people and email them to tell them how much they mean to you and the difference they have made to your life.  None of us know which of us will get out of this alive, but all of our woods will have felled trees for sure and far better to share our appreciations and gratitude now than to wish we had.
We need to make like trees

‘When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be.’

‘This is because a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.’

‘But isn’t that how evolution works? you ask. The survival of the fittest? Their well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well. When that happens, the forest is no longer a single closed unit. Hot sun and swirling winds can now penetrate to the forest floor and disrupt the moist, cool climate. Even strong trees get sick a lot over the course of their lives. When this happens, they depend on their weaker neighbors for support. If they are no longer there, then all it takes is what would once have been a harmless insect attack to seal the fate even of giants.”

― Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World

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