Have you ever known a time of such divergent opinions?
In his book, Limitless, brain coach Jim Kwik talks about how the average human being in 2020 is processing more information per day than the average person in the 1400s did in their entire lives. It has become apparent (it took us far too long to realise) that no matter what sort of information you offer and even prove, there will be a thousand other studies and articles and podcast episodes debunking your theory. All of us are right. None of us are right. But my god, has the Coronavirus-era taken this idea that we all know best to a whole new level.
I’m a wellbeing writer; I do things that really annoy people, like make jam and sprouted mung bean salads, and I talk about things like the benefits of chaga mushrooms and supporting the microbiome and, heaven forbid, the benefits of breastfeeding, so I’m no stranger to a contentious, multi-opinioned debate.
On the one hand, we now live in a world where we get to experience the tear-inducing camaraderie that makes you ugly cry when you’re standing outside your house on a Thursday evening clapping with the rest of your street, and the way people now actually know their neighbours and take food to elderly people in their street they’d never even met before, and offer toilet paper on Facebook to friends who have run out. But on the other hand … everyone also bloody hates everyone else. Cough within a ten-mile radius of someone while out on your daily exercise and be prepared for a stink-eye that could rival Charles Bronson.
And while we’re on the subject of the new terminology; if one more person refers to going out as their daily exercise, like I’m about to dob them into the police if I were to think otherwise, I might just cough on them. At a safe distance. People are starting to go out for walks with friends now. Yes yes, shock horror. But it’s true. Yet even these people feel the need to reiterate the fact that “We took my mum for a walk, at a safe distance, you know.” or “Friends came to have a cup of tea in the garden with us. We sat at a safe distance.”
We’ve allowed ourselves to get sucked in so deep by the fear that dictates our new normal, that we feel we have to justify every last thing we say or do. Unless you’re talking about flattening the curve. That’s one I really have no time for.
There is a part inside all of us, I think, that sees these keeping-us-safe law enforcers as the monsters under the bed that we feared as children; our logic tells us they’re not really there, but who knows anymore? Maybe they’re monitoring my movements through my phone? Maybe cookies actually read my mind now?
Furlough? Who heard of that word before March 2020? Me. I heard it in an episode of Orange Is the New Black. That’s it. No other time. Front-line NHS workers, another one. And, here it comes, May we never call them low-skilled again.
Perhaps it’s the dramatic intention of these new terms, the fact that the entire population has collectively been part of a histrionic, unforeseeable crisis, that induces the need for an end to anything remotely melodramatic. Really, we all just miss the treasured banality of normal, everyday life and the proclivity us Brits used to have for keeping calm and carrying on, and we don’t want anything that reminds us that we’re not back there yet.
Love or Hate
It’s not just the new terminology that annoys people. Everyone has their very own idea of which behavior is acceptable and warranted. I was in my local Marks & Spencer’s today, and I realised how annoyed I get at pretty much everyone, and how everyone else is either seething with the venom of a saw-scaled viper or bending over backwards with the cloying acquiescence of Lorraine Kelly. It’s like Brexit. Or Marmite. Or Russell Brand. There is no in between.
You’ve got the mask-wearing self-proclaimed savers-of-lives who sneer and grunt if you are not effectively observing the safe two-meter distancing rules, you know, while they’re doing their very best to save lives with their masks and gloves. Then you’ve got the assholes who get too close, probably to piss off the mask-wearers because they just don’t care, man. And then there’s the gloating, head-tilting smiles of the people who so consciously and considerately give you a wide berth, then hold back while they patiently wait for you to offer them the kind of thanks that should be reserved for front-line NHS workers (!) and missionaries helping civilians out of Syria. They simply cannot fathom you merely offering a half-smile in annoyance at their acceptance of the rules, before you go about your business. Jeez, they gave you two meters! Give them a round of applause for god’s sake!
Let’s also take a moment to acknowledge the divide in motherhood. Once again, like Brexit and Marmite and Russell, everyone falls into one of two groups. In the first camp you’ve got the Instagram-worthy do-it-all home schooler / baker / cleaner / wife / mother / yogi, taking home-schooling to levels that even peacetime home-schoolers haven’t been privy to, building rocket ships so realistic and functionable they might well be commissioned by NASA. That was just the morning activity. Afternoons are spent baking so that they can hop on over to distribute said cookies (along with their martyrdom) to needy neighbours and front-line NHS workers. They create highlights in their Insta-stories entitled ‘Lockdown Fun’ or something equally antagonistic and update it every evening, including the pre-planned activities of the day, such as lava lamp making, leaf painting, the plays they put on in their gardens and the books they wrote together as a family. Their morning yoga routine will also feature daily. The second camp features the keep-it-real-but-need-to-let-everyone-know-how-real-they’re-keeping-it mums. Here’s a picture of my pig-sty house, they’ll caption. Home school? Screw it, they’ll catch up when they go back. Too tired. Need to take care of me, put my self-care first. To all those mums baking and cooking and doing it all right, they’ll say facetiously, good on you. I’m here just trying to get through the day. And then ensues the heaping comments about how this brave mum who keeps it real is contributing to the mental health awareness movement.
I, for one, did my best to save as many precious toilet roll holders as possible in the hope of setting a world record for most amount of crafts made from recycled cardboard. I achieved my objective. I cannot make another thing out of cardboard. Woe betide the person who even alludes to the idea of continuing to save my loo roll holders.
Just in case I haven’t brought light to enough of the new ways people are becoming annoying, another one is the vitriol aimed at anyone suffering who isn’t working class or doesn’t work for the NHS or similar. People in positions of privilege whose businesses are crumbling beneath them are met with the underlying supposition that it doesn’t matter as much because they’ve been rich. Even if they’re not rich. Without any consideration that they too have families and potentially employees who will also suffer.
But we get to flip it again. Amongst all the vitriol, people are literally offering everything they have for free! Everything from exercise, science projects and wild alchemy immersions to Origami, tapestry and calligraphy are available—FOR FREE—online! Trying to decide if people have become really nice or really horrible is exhausting.
The Cartoon Rain Cloud
Here’s what it comes down to: the fear that has been hanging over us like a cartoon-esque rain cloud for the past three months has impacted us in the most profound ways possible. Not only does this collective fear bring down the vibrational frequency of our atmosphere—something Dr Joe Dispenza explains as “what we put into the quantum field creates a reality”—but the adopted survivalist behaviours of everyone around us is doing the same.
Walking around your local high-street to see most shops bearing signs that say “Temporarily Closed”, with only the supermarkets open and boasting queues of people outside (at a safe distance), some wearing masks of varying shapes, sizes and functions—it’s reminiscent of the sort of apocalyptic dystopia only ever imagined before by Hollywood and Orwell. Having to teach your children not to touch anything, ever, even though every fibre of your being tells you that they need contact with germs. Waving at your ageing parents from a car window, imagining them waving a white handkerchief as you drive away, because the melodrama has made award-winning thespians of us all.
All this subliminally adds to that already overflowing hourglass of fear and contributes to us being daring enough to question: was even war-time easier than this? Before the sign-of-the-times judgement ensues, just hear me out. In wartime, you may have had to queue for your rations, but you could have a natter with your mate in the queue while you did it, perhaps share in your struggles. Your husband may have been off fighting, but if you were alone, your mum or sister or aunt or neighbor could come over to your house; single mums and lone elderly people were not isolated to near insanity and suicide. In wartime you may have had to shelter yourself from life-threatening bombs that annihilated entire streets, but at least you understood how a bomb bloody worked and very few people would have argued with you about that.
In response to the anticipated judgement: how dare I, in my middle-class suburban life, even contemplate that this temporary situation is anywhere near what people experience in wartime. Of course it’s not, really. We know there will be an end to this, at some point. But we know so little, understand so little. Everyone is an expert but really no one on the entire planet is an expert when it comes to the nuances of Covid-19. Which is the exact reason we feel so lost. We know nothing.
Forgetting the virus itself and those unfortunately directly affected to just concentrate on the consequences of the way it has been managed for just a moment: the long-term psychological effects that will remain with our children for life are not something to shrug off and trivialize. The ramifications of such a decision for elderly people whose one outing a day for lunch in a local café may have been the only thing keeping them holding on is not something we can reply with: Staying home saves lives. And the total obliteration of the global economy, inflicting the sort of financial difficulties some of us didn’t even reach in the 2008 crash—rich and poor and middle-of-the-road—is, of course, bound to get people’s backs up.
Some people believe this lockdown and the entire stance are a complete over-reaction. There are stats to prove they are right. Some think that too many people have died for us to just go back to normal. There are data to prove this is a fair point. Some have vowed not to leave their house until there is a vaccine—debilitating fear will do that to a person. Others believe that this is the worst thing to have happened to our children since Jimmy Savile. They may not be wrong.
We are all embodying the entire human spectrum of behaviour. We are all wrong. We are all right.