If we were to believe social media, it would be easy to think we need to choose either panic or denial in response to the reported risks of COVID-19.
Rush to the shops and stock up for doomsday, or proceed as if it should be business as usual. I confess I’d been wondering if too much fuss was being made about something that was likely to make me less sick than the flu. I’m in a pretty low-risk group, so that chances are that if I do happen to catch the coronavirus, I’ll have pretty mild symptoms.
I’ve already joked that I’m happy to find any excuse to self-isolate so I can catch up on my ever-growing TBR pile. Jokes aside, I don’t really want to get sick, regardless of how mild or serious the symptoms.
Believe it or not, though, it’s not all about me …
When my daughter was small, especially prior to her open-heart surgery to correct the heart defects she was born with, we had to be super careful. A simple cold could quickly develop into a chest infection, which could potentially deteriorate into a life-threatening heart infection.
People who knew us became very good at letting us know their child ‘just had a cold’ or was ‘probably just teething’, but instead of keeping their children isolated, it was up to us to decide to stay home to protect our daughter. For many children, colds helps build their immune system; for our’s it could have been a matter of life and death.
Now she’s older, we’re fortunate to be able to treat her largely like any other teenager; however, there are many other children, young people and even adults, who do have to be extra vigilant. One of my daughter’s friends is currently awaiting heart surgery, and another has cystic fibrosis, as does a fellow writer I know. One friend has severe asthma and other chronic health issues. My grandfather, who will turn 97 in a few months, is also in a high-risk category. For all of them, contracting the coronavirus could make them seriously ill, or even endanger their life.
But you know what? It shouldn’t matter that this is close to home for me. I should care about those who are at high risk, regardless of whether they are known to me.
So, whether we’re rushing to the shops in the hope of finding the paper gold that is a toilet roll, or going about our daily life as if nothing has changed, they are two sides of the same self-interest coin: it’s all about me and my own comfort.
But there is another way.
The way of kindness and generosity.
And I’ve seen it already.
Earlier in the week I heard the story of a mother and daughter who joined the crowd hurrying into the supermarket first thing one morning. Making a beeline for the toilet paper aisle, they pulled a number of packs into their trolley. However, instead of making a dash for the checkout, they waited, aware the elderly couldn’t match the speed of other customers. As the oldies reached the now empty shelves, the women handed out the packets in their trolley.
Still on the subject of bog rolls, one of my neighbours posted a message in our street group chat to say she’d accidentally ordered too much from Who Gives a Crap (I call it accidental good planning), and so offered it to anyone who might run out.
Someone else has posted a message on social media, encouraging anyone who’s bought tickets for cancelled concerts and theatre performances, to consider donating the cost of the ticket rather than requesting a refund, because for many creatives, these cancellations will cost them not only their income for the foreseeable future, but perhaps send them into debt.
Further afield, people all over Italy have been stepping out on to their balconies at a specified time in order to sing, dance and play music together, despite their enforced quarantine.
Right now, we have a choice.
Instead of hoarding more than we need, we can share with those around us who are less mobile, or less able to afford to buy in bulk.
Instead of self-interest, we can choose community and connectedness, ensuring any self-isolation doesn’t result in social isolation.
Instead of continuing on as usual, for our own convenience, we can choose to self-isolate if necessary, to protect the health of someone else—even a stranger. There’s a useful graph which is currently making the rounds, and explains that our being overly cautious now will flatten out the curve of those needing medical care at any one time. This will in turn help hospitals and medical professionals cope with the load and be able to offer adequate medical care to all who need it.
We can be prepared but not panic.
And we can be kind.
Regardless of what the world—and social media—tries to tell you, kindness always matters.
And remember: it’s not all about you (or me).