• Ian McClellan

Week 17: I will remember to be kind.

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Sometimes, it is hard not to focus on what is lost or might be lost when you are facing a difficult moment, or there is uncontrollable uncertainty creeping into what is usually a very normal life and a very steady existence.

When one individual's world is knocked a little bit off its axis, we can all help to support and rationalise on their behalves. We can share their sadness, without being distracted by sadness of our own. We can show them logic where they might be seeing chaos, because we are calm and rationale. We can persuade them that it will get better, even if they think the fabric of their lives is being torn apart, because we can see how it might be fixed.

If one community or nation is in trouble, we can do similar things. We can raise awareness, so that we encourage action. We can give hope, and make those impacted feel like they are not alone. We can make a direct impact in many ways, because selflessness is easier when your vision is not clouded by self-preservation.

Right now however, it feels like the whole world has fallen off its axis. Not just that, but fallen off its axis, rolled out of the cosmic door and been kicked into a interstellar hedge. It feels like we are living in a parallel universe. One where the sun might be shining outside, and spring is might be in the air. But that we might soon not be allowed to go outside into that sunshine, and stroll in those spring flowers, for what seems like ever again. We are watching large parts of the population coming to terms with a virus that is not a small thing happening to someone else, but happening to us all and therefore at the same time having to come to terms with it ourselves.

Coronavirus has stirred up collective emotions in a way that I have never seen before in my relatively short life. Depending on when and where we are, and what we have experienced - we are shocked or angry, or we are pleading for perspective, or we are offering hope. Data delivers predictions, but is then dismissed as incomparable. Opinions have been elevated, and then divided. We have acted too quickly, or we have not acted quickly enough. We are doing the right things. We are doing the wrong things. Someone else did it better, somewhere else did it worse.

As someone who has no experience in virology, or government policy, I don't have an opinion on the COVID-19 pandemic. I don't know what a pandemic feels like when it affects me, yet. I don't even really know if I am calling it the right thing. I am not qualified or entitled to predict how or what might happen, or judging what has been done.

For the first time, the top ten news articles on the BBC are all related to one topic. For the first time, I am finding something other than sport to follow intensely, as it unfolds as live action. But unlike sports, I am trying to listen, not because I want a team or an individual or a nation to win, but so that we can be good citizens, good employers, and good human beings.

I can't help in moments for the selfish part of my mind to turn to the things that we will lose by making restrictions to our lives, such as time, money and convenience. But this is nothing compared to anyone who might have to measure loss from the standpoint of human contact, or an empty space where there was once someone whom they love. This sounds dramatic, but it is not so dramatic to be deniable.

This is not therefore an opinion, as I have no opinion aside from that we should listen and follow the guidance of our governments, and the WHO.

But I want to use this moment to make some decisions. Big moments in life can be good moments to make decisions and make promises to yourself, before life and routine swallows us again.

This week's permanent change is not directly related to the planet, but at the same time is very much something that is connected to this project. It is something we can all do as individuals, no matter what our opinion may be.

It is to remember to be kind.

I will try to be more kind in my thoughts to those who are making decisions on our behalves. Whenever faced with an unknown scenario, opinion only creates divide. No-one truly knows exactly what is going to happen - either with or because of coronavirus or any measures taken. There will be an impact, and we can agree or disagree what that will be.

But in the end, if we do not act together, then all that seems to happen is that we create a scenario where someone will be right, and someone will be wrong. The positive common ground in my head, is to try to understand there are people making very difficult decisions, and to try and put myself in their shoes. I hope as always that those we trust to make decisions, are doing them for the right reasons, even if it turns out to be the wrong thing. There is common ground in acting together, failing, and using that to learn. If we don't trust the government, it is time for that trust to be built. If we don't agree, we comply anyway, not for the government but for each other.

I will be more kind to those around me, whenever I can. In the end, the statistics say that people in my demographic will come out of the other side of this pandemic with their long-term health in-tact. As a family unit of three, the statistics say we will also come out of the other side of this pandemic with perhaps a minor inconvenience to work and lifestyle, but nothing in comparison to people who lose their health, or lose their livelihoods, or lose someone close to them. But this does not mean we should take it less seriously, or be complacent. If it is statistically less of our problem, it means it is statistically more of someone else's. If we put ourselves to one side, we can instead give more focus to others. Plus, statistics can be wrong.

Even since the beginning of this week in the UK, kindness to others feels like it is growing. Individuals reaching out to individuals, and communities to communities. Strangers are sharing ideas with strangers.

Our village has a group of volunteers who are organising help for the vulnerable, from collecting urgent medication to a phone call to shopping. Individuals who have organised themselves and are being kind with their time for others. Volunteers who will give time to help. Sharing these inspirational initiatives, encourages and empowers other communities to do the same.

One of our local food banks has issued updates on types of food that are desperately needed, so I was able to add a few extra items into the shopping basket that were especially needed to donate. I have to admit it was my first ever time directly contributing in this way, outside of the supermarket collection points, and I felt uncomfortable doing it for the first time. It was my first step inside a food bank and I didn't know what to say, or what my face was doing. Now I know how it works, there is reassurance to do it more.

We can all support our local businesses and services. If we need a few provisions or services, we can visit our local community stores first. It is just economics that these friends and valued destinations we visit for night out, for staples and luxuries, will feel under pressure when their regular customers cannot leave their houses or that they are asked to close because it is necessary and correct to do so.

Or more frankly - instead of only clearing the supermarket shelves of pasta and tinned meats, we should buy enough of what we need, but make the effort to visit and add an extra product from our favourite chocolate store, or make an effort to visit our local food vans, or make an effort to get an extra cup of coffee from our favourite restaurant or cafe, even if it's to-go.

I hope this does not sound self-aggrandising, or patronising. This is not an act of charity, it is perhaps of all the kindness, the one that is deeply selfish in motive. We want our favourite places to make rent, because we know them and their staff, and because that is where we want to celebrate, and to begin to rebuild our own routines once we are able.

Those who are way more creative and entrepreneurial than me are thinking up innovative ways to adapt. Switching from serving food to delivering it. Switching yoga or other classes online or live via video services such as Skype or Zoom. Participating and sharing these ideas, will spread the word, and spread positive solutions and ideas that can help everyone bridge a difficult gap in the ability to do business, and support customers and staff in the normal way. It takes one click on social media to share a good idea, that might give someone else a good idea.

By sharing, contributing, and participating however we can, we can cut through the noise and hope that those who need it will hear us, and will be helped by our kindness. It is happening and it is wonderful. By even letting people know that you're thinking of them, can give strength and unity.

We can be kind to those who are going to inevitably throw themselves in the way of coronavirus, not be compelled to isolate. Those who have chosen a caring path and who are at the front line of healthcare, will be asked to do the opposite to us all. They will be the ones who are keeping our parents and our grandparents well, or alive. They are the ones who will see less of their families, and cannot work from home. Their kindness, and our thanks, should be what echoes the loudest after this storm passes. Those who are keeping our society moving, those who are keeping us safe, those who are fixing things, delivering things, for as long as they are able.

Kindness also means understanding when others do not act in a way that I agree with. We all do things that we do not expect of ourselves, through fear or through stress. I will probably act in a certain way that I don't recognise at some point. People will do things we don't agree with. But when we come out of the other side of this, as we all hope we do, then we will all hold our families and our friends a little tighter. We will all see our communities a little differently.

Life will be changed.

In the end, the planetwise link is perhaps that. The fact that we will all come out the other side, changed.

Perhaps things will not go back to normal. And what if some things that change don't change back? What if we are forced to live a little bit slower? What if we are forced to exist in a personal world that is a little bit smaller? What if the things that we consumed habitually, we couldn't get for a while and realised that we didn't really need them? What if we made a new relationship, with someone that we don't lose? What if we rebuilt a bridge that we thought had been lost?

So, on top of remembering to be kind, I will use this moment to do the opposite to the usual change. Instead I will think about what I don't have to change back. I don't know what that is yet, because so much is changing and yet to change further. We are going to learn a lot about ourselves in the next few months. Like never before, we are all connected, we can individually make a difference to the lives of our fellow humans. We can share our ideas - we can create a direct positive impact, and a collective positive pressure, and we can resist pressure to revert to past habits.

For example, as working from home becomes more prevalent, and as we learn how to do this, what if we began to appreciate the time we would usually commute as time to spend with our families? And what after things returned to normal, and assuming they do return to normal, we realised that we could work from home once per week, and therefore save the time and the emissions of commuting. Instead of feeling we have lost valuable desk time or meeting time having to work at home, instead we consider that we have gained valuable family time, and been planetwise at the same time. Working from home can be very productive. But if five days commuting for example, became four, that is a twenty percent reduction.

There have already become documented benefits for the planet through commuting less. There is already starting to be published studies about how travel restrictions in China and other nations, have led to cuts in emissions that global climate negotiations could not achieve in the short term. The changes and decreases are not permanent, they are circumstantial and short term, but it did make me think of how we are all connected, and how circumstances might force or incentivise changes in habits, or inadvertently break habits that will-power or political processes alone could not.

What if we realised that we didn't need something that we used to do or purchase out of a convenient habit. That we chose one thing, that we just promised ourselves that we would give up forever. That we used the time away from it, as a way of breaking that habit or forming a new one. It could be a chance for a declutter of physical or mental clutter, and be planetwise at the same time. What if we didn't go somewhere, that we used to go out of habit? What if there were creative ways of achieving pleasure that are more planetwise?

Artists such as Chris Martin, John Legend, have started live-streaming concerts, and others are happening if you check the pop culture pages. What if we used this experience to change? Experiencing live music in person will perhaps never disappear, but perhaps instead of that extra night at Wembley by-popular-demand, it was a live stream from the very same stage instead. The big stage, but a personal and interactive experience. You don't have to yell your favourite song from the back, you can make a comment instead. It feels like it is possible, but then of course we knew that in the end, rock and roll would save the world.

Taking this further, what if the management of organisations and institutions, realised that although many international business meetings and conferences had to be cancelled because of coronavirus, that productivity did not decrease proportionally or that business could be conducted efficiently another way. That with support, teams could be resilient to the change in how business routines worked, and figure out or be trained on ways of working more effectively remotely? Human contact in business is still important, but if this meant that the quarterly global conference, was only carried out in person in three of the four quarters of the year, imagine the impact on the climate through decreased flights. What if the fourth happened using some new, kick-ass tech that will decrease the overall carbon emissions of the organisation, gave an innovatie experience to the teams, and contributed for us all. What if monthly face-to-face meetings could become bi-monthly?

What if the habit of kindness continued permanently? That when this particular focus of our kindness has passed, and that we continued to practice the habit? We can remember how this felt, and keep some of the parts of the change that we are experiencing as permanent, positive, planetwise habits.

It is too soon to think beyond the hypothetical, because our focus needs to be on health right now. We can share, contribute, participate right now and remember to be kind right now. Loss will be felt by many, in many different ways, but if we are all a bit kinder, then the world does not have to return to how it used to be. The world will be changed, but it also can be changed, forever.

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