Crises define us, and it’s time to stay in and reach out. Andrew Leci suggests that all the toilet tissue in the world won’t enable us to paper over the cracks
At Robb Report, we write about the best of the best, and this will always continue. Times change, however, and we’re all living through an unusual and difficult period in human history. We hope it will be brief.
Business is not ‘as usual’. There are fewer norms, and the landscape has changed to the extent to which reassessment is required, and nothing is off the table when it comes to actions and words. The prelude to what some optimists are referring to as the ‘brave new world’ that we will enter once this crisis has been met and overcome should definitely be prefaced with a ‘whatever it takes’ mentality. This must also include editorial content.
The coronavirus pandemic is bringing out the best in the best of us, but also the worst. (Read: Please note that I haven’t continued with ‘… in the worst of us’, because I continue to believe in the notion that human beings are essentially good, want to do well, but get derailed from the path of righteousness on occasions and in certain circumstances.)
There are lots of such occasions in the current circumstances, right here and right now, in which we are seeing the best and the worst of what humankind has to offer – I can’t say ‘mankind’ anymore, as this is too gender specific and politically incorrect – as if the coronavirus gives a flying fart! It is definitely an equal opportunities contagion.
People around the world are being kind and helpful; selfless even. Others are behaving as though nothing is happening, and even if it is, it’s happening to someone else. Hopefully, again, this may not last for very much longer.
My sister was doing some shopping in London, for some elderly people who couldn’t (and indeed shouldn’t) get out of the house. The queues in the local supermarket were long; shoppers were becoming disgruntled; everyone wanted to be somewhere else, somewhere ‘safer’. But we all need to eat – and wipe our bottoms, obviously.
For no apparent reason that she can explain, she broke into song. My sister sings well enough (cats tend to join in; glasses have been known to shatter) and she wouldn’t be headlining at La Scala – no one will for a while – but she can carry a tune.
Most people, I suspect, looked at her as though she was a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic (which she is, by the way; just saying) before having a listen and then… joining in. From the dairy section to fruit and vegetables and into frozen foods – even the really disappointed shoppers in the empty, ravaged toilet paper shelves – everyone started singing, and as well as they were able to. It wasn’t exactly funny. They weren’t rolling in the aisles, but they were belting out show tunes like there was no tomorrow.
Her playlist was drawn from her favourite musicals – Les Misérables, The Greatest Showman (The Sound of Music would certainly have been on the bill had she not reached the checkout and had to pay one). There was a chorus of approval, literally. There was joy. It was a moment of light in the hours of darkness that not many of us imagined they would ever experience.
It lifted spirits – particularly those of my sister who struggles to find anyone without a hearing impairment to whom she can sing with impunity – although an 80-year-old former accountant did offer her a recording contract – and people were giving each other virtual hugs from a metre away. It must have been quite a scene.
It was not a random act of kindness. It was a human response to a difficult situation in which many people were anxious and concerned, and it did the trick. Around the world many individuals and groups are doing the same – often with the help of music; balconies in Italy have become the new concert venues – but always with the intention of elevating moods, creating bonds and getting us all to feel better. About ourselves; about the situation.
While this is happening, other people are panic buying and hoarding, depriving the rest of much-needed resources (toilet paper in particular) as though they were the only people who deserved to live in the event that the pandemic becomes apocalyptic and the survivors will be left to carry on the best (and the worst) traditions of the human race.
Others are continuing to gather in numbers in public places, asserting their rugged individualism, being too cool to care, or dogmatising the ‘we’re not sheep’ mentality.
Quite apart from the sheer, unbridled hubris that this implies, it’s not a bad idea to point out the utter – unnecessary in most cases – selfishness that these actions indicate. And this is not to mention those who are conducting ‘coronavirus parties’ – in which hundreds of people have been gathering to… to… I have no idea; pretend it’s not happening? – or mass religious gatherings convened on the basis that the supreme being of your choice will attend to your needs and respiratory difficulties if and when the shit hits the fan.
The partygoers and toilet lickers – yes, there was one individual in the UK who committed that act of derring-do (what a brave maverick) – are still putting on their glad bravado rags, presumably to thumb their noses at the pandemic that has already claimed thousands of lives. They are young, vibrant and invincible and they’re not about to let a global pandemic get in the way of asserting their god-given right to have fun. Hell, even if they contract the disease, the chances are good that they’ll have a cough and a sniffle for a while and then recover. The fatality rate of COVID-19 is lower than SARS (ah, the fond memories of that puppy of a contagion) and the Spanish flu that killed 20 million people after the First World War. What’s the worst that can happen?
And they will be looked after, even if they get ill. Because there are dedicated medical professionals whose job it is to heal the sick and the wounded, irrespective of the irresponsibility they demonstrate in getting sick in the first place. Health systems and services around the world are stretched to breaking point – to the extent that in some countries, as I write, retired, lapsed and even career-changed former health workers are being brought back into the fold to help out in the crisis. These are the good people; the ones who are prepared to make sacrifices and put themselves (once again) on the frontline of emergency services to help others, and do their bit. Everyone has to do their bit, even if it means missing a party or a religious service.
Statistics released very recently point to the fact that four out of five people who contracted the virus in Wuhan – a city now etched in the memory as the epicentre of this debacle – were infected by people who showed no symptoms whatsoever. COVID-19 is ‘slippery’ – believe it or not, that is the scientific term among virologists and immunologists – and is wreaking havoc around the world. It has to be stopped, and it will be, in due course. Unfortunately, it’s up to us to determine how long that course is going to be, but only if we can manage to exercise what little control we have.
Here is what has to happen. We should all be acting as though we already have the virus, and are, therefore, capable of infecting others. If we take this on board and adopt this mindset, think about what a difference it could make. You don’t have to be coughing and spluttering in order to distance yourself from others. You don’t have to be working your way through a box of Kleenex every six hours – and let’s be frank, you may need it later once the value of ‘Buttcoin’ has shattered the marble ceiling and toilet paper is more valuable than carbon that stuck to its task.
Tell yourself you’re infected, and act accordingly. If you don’t develop symptoms: bonus. Persuading yourself that you might be infected doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination. While listening to authorities and assuming that their advice is sound may take a leap of faith, caring for (and about) others shouldn’t.
As the saying goes, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’, and while it is a pain in the arse to listen to the edicts of the powers that are – many of whom have been democratically elected (so the fault lies with us in the first place) – it behoves us to toe the line, stay at home as much as possible, do the right thing, use less toilet paper and try to think of others even as we are thinking about ourselves.
In the immortal words of Ricky Gervais in response to people in the UK flouting social distancing directives, “don’t be a … knob-head”. World Wars have been fought and people have sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of freedom and to rid the world of tyranny. We are being asked to sit at home for a while – watching Netflix, reading books, making art installations from discarded navel lint. We can do this.
And while we’re doing it, let’s help those who are less able to help themselves (not to the last few rolls of toilet paper, I hasten to add) and let’s be mindful of the fact that how we react to this current crisis will define us as a species now, in one year’s time, and for generations to come. No pressure.