Bearing in mind as I write that this article is scheduled to be published in June 2020, I am trying to visualise what our social environment then might be. I am not good at predictions—my dismal failure with investments attest to this—so let me stick to what I think I know better.
When all the dust from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and its ensuing social and economic crisis, finally settles, a few things will become obvious. These realisations may be life-changing or, in today’s parlance, a game-changer.
The first realisation is how much we are primarily social beings. For some, the need for social contact may be met by a phone or virtual call. For most, however, we long for more primal face-to-face contact. We desire the full engagement of the verbal, visual and even olfactory encounter. For instance, some grandparents long to hug and draw deeply again the smells of their grandchildren.
To be sure, few would miss the daily commute to and from work. We may wish we could press the “mute button” for colleagues who talk endlessly at meetings or block entry into our lives by unwanted people in our “waiting rooms”. But I think most of us will be prepared to cope with the inconvenience of human interaction than be without any. Safe distancing, a life-preserving measure, can be experienced as social isolation and deprivation. Experienced long term, this can lead to negative psychological effects like depression.
A second realisation is some may have experienced the circuit breaker as God sent. Things that they may have wanted to do but were either too busy or distracted finally got done. For example, some have been able to declutter their homes or read books that had been set aside. Or new routines were formed, and families ate together more often and found more family activities for entertainment. When the circuit breaker is lifted, might there be some who miss the new routines and feel the restrictions had paradoxically liberated us from old habits?
A third realisation is, even as a daily litany of grim news has bombarded us, there has also been a small, steady stream of positive stories. Juxtaposed between accounts of racist and selfish acts are stories of acts of compassion. Nameless individuals have gone out of their way to help total strangers. Instead of rejecting others, they extended a hand of welcome. These are reminders of the good in humanity.
This brings me to my fourth realisation—that to survive any storm, however severe or prolonged, we must have the resolve to do so. This resolve ultimately springs from our sense of hope. Our hope rests in what we cling to when all the chips are down. For some, it may be loved ones, family or friends while for others, faith in God.
How unshakeable is your hope? Has it stood the test of crisis? How are present circumstances and the worst-case scenario defined by your hope? Does your hope rise to these challenges?
So when you find time to reflect and gather your thoughts amid all the upheaval, do ask yourself what truths or lessons this period has taught you. How life changing will this experience be? What habits have you been weaned from? What are “new routines” you want to hold on to? We, not the coronavirus, hold the answers to such questions. Let us not be creatures of circumstances but find hope to survive any storm.
Credit: Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.