A call for tolerance in antisocial times
For all but the most introverted among us, humans are social beings, gathering together to talk, work, worship, dance, commune with nature, learn and, often, just enjoy being in one another’s company.
This communion of souls does not simply serve as a means of being together, it is how we learn tolerance and mutual respect, sometimes going along to get along and compromising for the common good.
For some time now, the world has been separating — on a personal level, as people, especially older and younger people, stay at home either by necessity or to spend more time in front of screens and communicating through the ether rather than face to face.
And on a national level, the dangers of globalisation have caused countries to become more nationalistic and selfish.
This is exemplified by the excesses of Donald Trump, President of the United States, and his habit of blaming foreigners for his country’s ills, including the coronavirus.
But it exists in our own backyard as well, as Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, demonstrated this week when he threatened the work permits of non-Bermudians who breached quarantine rules.
However, this editorial is not dealing with politics, except to note that at times of crisis, there is a dangerous tendency to ignore established norms and rights that were hard fought for — such as protection from discrimination — in the name of public safety.
The Government is being given enormous and exceptional powers now — those powers come with equally huge responsibilities to handle them with great care and to be ready to hand them back as soon as possible.
But the real concern today is to look at the psychological effect of enforced isolation on people whose wellbeing often depends on human interaction.
This is a decidedly unnatural state for most of us, but it is likely in the weeks and months to come that some or all of us will be “self-isolating” at some point.
For parents, this is likely to be particularly difficult, especially if government schools join their private peers and close their doors.
Finding ways to occupy and enrich children’s lives 24 hours a day, especially if parents are still having to work, will be difficult and support will be needed. And it is to be hoped that the education ministry is wholly focused on ways of bringing the classroom into the home and helping those without internet access or a computer to get one.
By necessity, many older people are being advised already to self-isolate and with this comes a reduction in time spent with others, both adult children and particularly grandchildren.
The importance of continuing to communicate and to make sure that older people are healthy and well cannot be overemphasised.
For the working population, changes are afoot. People are losing work and often incomes. Others are working, but from home, which constitutes a sea change for many. Many people love their families, but will find this more of a challenge on a 24/7 basis.
The need for tolerance and patience in all of this is essential. Financial strains, being together in close quarters, bored children — and adults — will all take their toll.
For others, living alone, the sheer loneliness will lead to depression or worse.
At this time, looking after others becomes ever more important. Some of the wealthier in society may be forced to cancel housekeeping services and the like because they are now self-isolating.
They should consider at least making partial payments to the people whose services they no longer need.
Reaching out to the lonely or self-exiled, either by dropping off food, a book, a note or simply by texting or calling them, can make an enormous difference.
There are other ways of giving. The hospital has just made an appeal for blood. People who are still out and about, and especially those with rare blood types, should heed the call.
Many volunteer organisations are staffed largely by retirees and older people who are being advised now to remain at home.
Those with time on their hands should volunteer their time.
Organisations such as Meals on Wheels and homeless charity Eliza Dolittle, which made an appeal for help today, are critically important at times like these.
For some, the natural instinct now is to withdraw. But we should all think of ways in which we can safely reach out to help others in need, especially, in the legendary words of the late C.V. “Jim” Woolridge “the sick and the shut-in”.
And we should take care, too, to treat each other with respect and care.
People on social media will use distance to say things to others that they would never say to their faces; we need to ensure now that we take particular care to be civil and respectful, to practise tolerance and patience with our friends and family and to remember, at the risk of being accused of sexism, that we are truly our brother’s keeper.
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Ada Nyabongo (1926-2020)
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