One thing I know about humans is that we don’t love change when it comes via an external tide.
If we favoured flexibility, we’d have already looked at each other and said: “you know, there are billions of people in this world, pandemics are inevitable, so let’s integrate safe handwashing into our cultural practice.”
If we welcomed change, we’d stop buying things in plastic, because we know that nothing good will come of that and if we wanted to avoid the changes that have come with a changing climate, we’d have adapted our lifestyles preemptively to limit our global emissions.
But instead, we’ve rushed around, too busy to change. We’ve attached our values and the lifestyles we lead firmly to our identity so that changing feels as painful as performing surgery on ourselves.
We’re letting nature take its course and the tides of change have really caught up with the western world this year, first with unprecedented bushfires and now with COVID-19.
Following nature’s course so freely reminds me that we are animals. Being in the supermarket just now reminded me that I am one in a herd of humans and the empty, dusty shelves made me deeply sad, proof that some of our herd got skittish and bolted and the rest of us followed suit.
The spread of COVID-19 around the world should come as no surprise, given the amount we move around and given that the Worldometer, an online population calculator, reports that world population is currently hovering around 7.8 billion.
It’s cool to watch the numbers change second-by-second and to think of all the women bearing babies all around the world, far outpacing the simultaneous deaths. It feels positive to see that growth, our species thriving, but how long can we keep growing?
And how much change will we have to accept to keep growing? The last few months have been a rough ride and accepting the external circumstances thrusts upon us has been difficult, partly because we’ve had it so good for so long.
Although I understand the reasons for the recommended period of isolation following the global spread of coronavirus, my heart still sinks a little every time I’ve heard of someone who has a cold and decided to self-isolate or seen a cancelled or postponed event -because the events planned this autumn were important for so many reasons.
For bushfire affected areas, they represent a return to normalcy, economic growth and returning to being a united, connected community.
For artists and performers, events mean all this plus the return to normal income.
Partly it’s knowing my own fragility at the moment and, in knowing that, knowing that others are feeling the same, or much worse. The bushfires are still with us, fanning our response to COVID-19 as we drop back into now-familiar wells of fear and adrenaline.
Although I know some are really struggling, I’ve been in awe of the positive spin most of you have managed to put on this, with some amazing jokes and memes, as well as a new appreciation of history, coming from COVID-19.
A woman in an online writing group I belong to posted: “When Shakespeare was quarantined during the plague, he wrote “King Lear.” So no pressure.”
Wild animals returning to places only inhabited by people in recent years, China’s cleanest air in decades, the dramatic drop in emissions as the human world pauses, all of this is the wondrous result of many tiny humans making many tiny changes to protect ourselves and our world, something we can extend to address climate change and global health after this pandemic passes.
While we wait out COVID-19, doing the right thing by the rest of our herd, let it sink in that we are capable of change – we’ve just proven it with the way we’ve responded to fire and virus, even if it has been under duress.
Next time we collectively do something extreme like isolate ourselves for weeks, let’s make it something we’ve chosen to do.