Can we return to looking out for each other and move away from looking down on each other?
We seem to have hit a moment as Lockdown V 3.0 becomes very real. Those of us that have felt a little grumpy about having to endure further restrictions for the foreseeable future are beginning to see the real state of our health service. The impact of the new variant and it’s speed of transmission coupled with better treatment outcomes leading to longer stays in hospital is putting extreme stress on numbers of beds and wards. The fact that our healthcare colleagues have to endure COVID 19 as normal human beings as well as in their day jobs, means that staff illness and necessary shielding in the NHS is even more impactful. Add to this the conditions at this time of year that we traditionally call the “flu season” and we have the perfect storm hitting our environment, our healthcare and our mental health.
In the midst of this turmoil, as the government struggles to get the transmission rate under control, their messaging is moving towards individual responsibility which provides us with some challenges. The main one being that while we are “all in this together” it is possible to maintain some form of community cohesion. When we start looking at and comparing individuals behaviour, however, it can lead to division, judgement and criticism.
In amongst this is some complicated, or as some may say it, mixed messaging coming from the authorities. At one end we have a police force here in Derbyshire taking a view that travelling outside of your immediate area for a walk at a beauty spot is worthy of a fine. At the other we have our own Prime Minister taking a bicycle ride 7 miles away from Downing Street.
I personally have sympathies with both viewpoints. One seeks to minimise transmission by reducing numbers of people travelling to beauty spots. Afterall, putting many people in one place and transmission will increase. Boris Johnson, a keen cyclist, could well take the view that 7 miles is not very far on a bike thus bringing into debate what constitutes local.
If we want to add some spice to the current dish of focus on individual behaviors and mixed messaging then a liberal dosing of fear is just the ingredient we need. Fear of a fast transmitting virus that could lead to any of us being delayed in getting the support we need should be unfortunate enough to be laid low by COVID 19. Fear of doing the wrong thing and inadvertently misinterpreting or breaking a rule that is stated as a guideline at best, and an unclear boundary at worst. There are many out there that just want to do the right thing. Fear of missing out. This does not just apply to teenagers on social media. It applies to us curtain twitchers observing our neighbor getting a visitor and not fully understanding why they should be an exception and why we have to obey the rules when others don’t appear to.
Social media can be both a blessing and a curse. It can be a great way to role model healthy behaviours, getting exercise and to share humour. It can however leave us open to criticism and judgement from others who , if they were in a conversation with us, would normally afford us more consideration and compassion. It can be both a connector and a disconnector.
Judgment versus Empathy and Compassion
We are all subject to the toxic mixture described above and it is no surprise that as a result we are running short on empathy and filling up with judgements and criticisms. I have written before about our judgemental and critical side and what they say about us (click here for more on that). I am all too aware of my own judgemental side and painfully aware that when I am at my least resilient one of my ways of protecting myself and trying to feel better about my own behaviours and situation is to judge others.
The challenge is that, just at a time when empathy and compassion could bring our society together we are finding ourselves on the opposite plain of judgement and criticism.
There is a particular part of my judgemental personality that I share with many other human beings which is often, when I am judging others I am being a hypocrite. I am not perfect so it is unlikely that I will not have found myself behaving similarly to those I may be judging. There are times when I reflect on my judgment of those that are, in my opinion, breaking the rules and I realise that when I am brutally honest with myself there are times when I have not fully complied. Of course when I have not been perfectly adhering to the rules and I have to hold myself accountable I have one of two defences that leap to mind. As I squirm under my own self scrutiny and realise I am not perfect, my first defence is to justify why I was allowed to bend that particular rule when others are not. My own special consideration. Otherwise as I begin to realise that I can behave like that a little voice jumps into my head and says “you may behave like that sometimes but you are not nearly as bad!”
Yes, I’m only a little bit of a hypocrite.
Which leads me to a couple of observations about our judgmental side.
Firstly, those of us that are especially tough on ourselves, those who are extremely good at putting ourselves under pressure to be perfect. We can often be the ones who are the most judgemental. As if we think that we have been so tough on ourselves it gives us the right to be tough on others.
The other is in the form of a quote that I share every few months on our social media pages
“Those who judge will never understand and those that understand will never judge.” Wilson Kanadi
So where does this little rant leave us?
We need really clear rules that are not open to interpretation. This government’s desire to give us free thinkers an opportunity to make choices actually leads to divisiveness when put under extremes of pressure. The pressures already described with the added element of inequality in our society means that we will find it difficult to navigate this next year or so without clarity and firm boundaries that we can all understand.
I also think that we need to commit to whatever the rules are both in spirit as well as compliance. We need to view them as rules to protect us, not rules for us to see how far we can bend them.
Essentially we need to develop a determination to understand others and their own particular circumstances. If we don’t have the time to understand, at least we can admit that lack of understanding and therefore move away from judgement. Admitting we do not know the full picture can be a crucial step in moving towards empathy.
With clear rules that leave interpretation out of the equation and healthy doses of empathy and compassion there is a good chance that we can really come through this pandemic feeling like we did it together.