On being a decent human

it’s getting a bit scary out there, isn’t it?

Food shortages are beginning to bite, never mind the toilet paper crisis. Those who aren’t hitting the supermarkets and loading their trolleys/carts with enough food to feed a family of 6 for a month are beginning to find it hard to find the basics. Even the raw materials like flour and sugar are getting scarce. It’s looking a lot like survival of the entitled. Personally, I haven’t bought toilet paper since my last 24 pack, which is how I normally buy it. That was before COVID-19 was even a thing. I’m using less these days, and I have a plan for when I finally run out, even if things haven’t returned to normal on the tp shelf-stocking front. I may even end up sticking with it when tp is freely available again, it’s a much more ecologically-friendly solution.

We only have to look at Italy to see how bad it can get, and how quickly. First, people think it’s just another flu-like virus, nothing much to worry about. Then there are the poor Chinese, whose government pretended nothing was going on, followed by a few unlucky cases who caught it in China, came home, and gave it to others. And so on. It’s all a little unreal, something that happens to someone else. Most of us still don’t know anyone who knows someone who’s got it or is even self-isolating. But slowly, that’s beginning to change. There’s an uneasy note in the news bulletins now, people are beginning to avoid touching and then meeting each other, others are working from home…

But what is worrying me more than a little is how the vulnerable are coping. Who is taking supplies to their elderly neighbour? To their daughter’s friend’s mother on chemotherapy, their work colleague recovering from a heart attack, the slightly scary schizophrenic guy on the corner? And by vulnerable, I don’t just mean the elderly, immuno-compromised and alone. I also mean those on whom we rely, and who in turn rely on others to make doing their jobs possible. Who will look after the out-of school-children of the doctors, nurses, and researchers, the first responders, the teachers, the supermarket workers; who is buying groceries for them? Who is supporting the power, phone and fuel workers?

This is probably one of the few times I wish I was a social-media-savvy ‘influencer’. Some of the things I’d talk about:

  • I wish I could encourage people to be kinder, less selfish, more altruistic. Seriously, what are you going to do with that mountain of 300 toilet rolls? Just give some away…
  • I’d happily accept a proper government-implemented rationing system if it meant everyone got their fair share and we saw an end to those hideous fight scenes in our supermarkets. Don’t tell me we’re not at war and rationing is an over-reaction. You just have to watch TV to see that fair shares are badly needed.
  • If the crisis becomes truly huge, I’d like to see the start of a volunteer organisation of the successfully-recovered and now immune, the Antibody Positive, the A+, to help those who are sick or self-isolating or even not yet affected.
  • I’d like to see people fined savagely for spreading disinformation or scaremongering or endangering others by refusing to self-isolate, for sneezing and coughing rudely and dangerously over other people, and for COVID-19-related abuse of anyone of a remotely Asian appearance.
  • I’d like our leaders to show some backbone and make necessary but unpopular decisions for the sake of our future health and economy, rather than leaving it to the discretion of individuals and organisations. I’d like them to acknowledge that this crisis is here for the long term, that it’s real, and I’d like them to stop patting me on the head and telling me all will be well, they have things under control. Because they don’t.
  • I’d like to start a national ‘Visit your elderly relative’ movement. Don’t leave it too long; if they’re in a care home of some sort, all it takes is one unwitting infectious case to be introduced, and the residents would scarcely stand a chance. Many homes are already considering a total lock-down, excluding even immediate relatives who are displaying no symptoms. I’ve just had a FaceTime conversation with my own 97 year-old father in his nursing home in the UK. My brother takes his iPad when he visits Pa, so we can talk face to face, as it were. That may not go on much longer, and I’m acutely aware that each conversation may be the last one. Make your visits count. Tell them you love them, ask if they need anything. Don’t forever regret that you didn’t bother.
  • If you have children, talk to them. Give them real information, not facile reassurances. There’s no need to frighten them, but they’ll need some sort of proper explanation for why everything is changing, why their parents aren’t going out to work and why they aren’t going to school, why people are wearing masks and public places are emptying out. They need to know people can get very sick… and even die. They need to know you’re being careful, and responsible, and kind to others. Don’t promise them what you cannot guarantee to deliver.

Let’s all be humane humans. We are better than the doom-sayers, the gossip and scare-mongers, the grocery-grabbers and profiteers, the irrational abusers and the ones who post cheap cracks about someone they don’t like deserving COVID-19.

This world may be a slightly emptier place when it’s all over. But wouldn’t it be good if those of us who are still here when it’s over were also a bit kinder, more rational, more generous and less profit-driven?