This article is written based on what is in my mind. It is possibly not my most well-thought out article. Just random thoughts of the current COVID-19 situation.
What an ironic start to the first quarter of the new decade! As we celebrated with such eagerness, enthusiasm and hope for what the new year and the new decade might bring, in a twist of events, it brought in a new state of things, bringing in a whole new dimension and definition of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).
And there are perhaps three lessons to learn :
1. Back to Basics — Focusing on what is truly important
What we truly need, and recognise as important, is essentially freedom, water, our breath and ultimately, our health.
With the turning event of DORSCON (Disease Outbreak Response System Condition) changing from Yellow to Orange, fear seems to set in, that we might lose the freedom that we have: the freedom of movement/accessibility and the luxury of excess and abundance. The escalation of this sudden awareness and consciousness that we might perhaps be placed in a “stay-home” situation, created some level of panic, and supermarket shelves were wiped out overnight of “basic necessities”, such as toilet paper.
It is in these moments, that voices of reason spoke up, to say that, perhaps we don’t really need toilet paper — water and soap does the job, and perhaps does an even better job. Even the instructions of keeping clean and healthy, boils down to simply using water and soap to clean our hands to reduce and, perhaps, prevent ourselves from contracting the virus. A simple class experiment (https://www.mothership.sg/2020/01/wash-hand-with-soap-experiment-us/) was also able to demonstrate the effectiveness of water and soap on bacteria.
With the spike in price of face masks as demand far surpasses the supply, and what would we give to have a breath of clean fresh air, without the fear of taking in the virus in the process, especially since it is transmitted through respiration.
And in light of the number of patients affected by this virus increases day by day, I sincerely hope that the awareness and attention placed on taking care of ourselves can be maintained beyond this season, that we need to learn to be be responsible and take of ourselves first (personal hygiene, personal health), and therefore better able to take care of others.
2. A Moment to Pause— A Universal Slow Down
This event has also created a “forced pause” impact, individually, organisationally, globally.
Individually -- taking moments to notice ourselves : how we are feeling physically, and if need be to go and see a doctor, with an extended Medical Certificate (MC) of five days, to allow for ample rest and recovery. Before this, the MC is perhaps about two to three days. Through the turning event of DORSCON Orange, there is also now a heightened awareness of how we might be feeling emotionally, and what thoughts and considerations / motivations might be encouraging certain actions / behaviours.
Organisationally -- Work-from-Home (WFH) schemes started to take a greater implementation and effect in businesses and organisations. Business sustainability has never had such great emphasis till now, and it seemed to be working to the advantage of many, as organisations now are forced to trust their employees to be responsible while working remotely. Employees have a bit more rest (don’t need to wake up as early to transport themselves to work, don’t have to beat the crowd), can spend a bit more time with family and friends (meals at home with family), can have a bit more leeway in spending time on other things, such as their hobbies. Just having a bit more of these, can provide the people a bit more sense of empowerment and ownership of themselves, and thus creating a greater sense of fulfilment and purpose towards the work that they do. These are essentially part of the aspects of psychological safety that can be implemented in the workplace, to create safer environments for people to thrive and flourish in their lives.
Globally — As businesses and organisations generally slow down in the work they do, people generally do not go out as much, and turn to going home earlier and/or eating at home more. Overseas travel has also slowed down, as the advisory is to cancel or postpone all non-essential travel to reduce / prevent the spread of the virus. With all these slowing down, retail and F&B businesses also notice a significant downturn of revenue and profit. Overall consumerism is reduced to making sure there is enough of the essentials for the households. Thus affecting overall global trade and economy.
This basically reinforced the chicken-and-egg situation of income and expenditure, that affects the individuals, as they might potentially earn less, as businesses cut back on their expenditures, as they might not be receiving as much revenue as before, and therefore spend less. Some companies / organisations have also retrenched staff, because of this fall in revenue affected by the global demand and supply of goods and services. And these people will spend even lesser.
Short of coming to a total standstill, this “crisis” has pretty successfully allowed us to take a pause, and take stock of what is happening around us. For this past month or so, more and more people seem to have taken that step back, and just notice what is happening around : to ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbours, our world.
Some examples are:
It feels like the universe has decided to take charge, and to step on the brakes for us, through the means of this virus, and to prevent us from going into greater burn-out, or even collision, in a bid to “save our economy”. I might not be an economist, but it doesn’t take a lot of knowledge to know that one of the reasons perhaps we are working so hard, is due to the market forces of defining success as owning more. To own more, we need to earn more. To earn more, we need to work harder and longer. When we earn more, we can buy more. And we buy more, there is a greater push to make more, and therefore, we work harder and longer :P
Anyway… If we just notice how it is now, there seems to be a realisation that we do not have to own more, to be happy / successful. If health is a priority, and taking care of our health is as simple as washing our hands with water and soap, then perhaps we do not have to work so hard and so long. We just need to have enough, and keep ourselves and our family safe.
3.Ground-up Initiatives — The rise and growth of the power of communities
In the midst of the flurry of events during the change from DORSCON Yellow to Orange, there were many concerned citizens who wanted to help/support the nation. Without any governmental and/or financial support, they took it upon themselves, reached out to friends and family, to support those who are more vulnerable. Many new hashtags and community groups popped up during this period, all in a bid to do good. One of them that I was involved in is #SGwholecommunities. Through this, I was also able to support #braveheartsg and many others.
Some community groups do not have a formal name, or organisation to them. I know of an uncle who owns a bag shop in Queensway, who in his own capacity, with the support of his regulars, raised money to purchase health products, to care for the healthcare workers. He is a small business owner, and he wanted to do something to support others working in the frontline. These people do not ask for recognition, just motivated by wanting to do something good for others.
“A Good Space” (https://www.facebook.com/AGoodSpaceSG/) helped by consolidating a list of people doing good, so that they can leverage on each other’s efforts, and maximise the support that can be provided during this period. This is the consolidated list : https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1PJHxr_SFMn3Vf52f6L7pVZjhkAjBcKZdftw1WR08RaM/edit?fbclid=IwAR3g0_sm71Fea8b0HuqlEJ0rXm7s57TtLA_35_sQtO4ICplD5MJj3gPNr5E#gid=1246211150
Schools and youths have also taken steps forward to start initiatives to benefit each other within the various communities, whether it is to enhance awareness of social responsibility, or it is to provide daily necessities to those in the frontline, and/or those who might be more vulnerable. Social media was also used as a force for good, even though it is also potentially the source of the rumours and fake news going around as well.
However, I choose to look at the positives, and say that with the initiatives and positive intentions of everyone involved, I see the power of community and ground-up initiatives in this event. We might not have created enough impact alone, however, together, I believed it made a loud enough noise, for the positive vibes to impact and uplift some people who might need it the most.
Wrapping up the “Crisis” with Compassion, Courage and Hope
There were many things that turned out bad and ugly during this period (deaths, uncouth behaviour, irresponsible behaviour, retrenchment, loss of business, etc). For now, I choose to look at the good, some of which I mentioned above.
My hope and wish is for these lessons to stay :
For us to be more mindful in the things we do, and the way we be; noticing the small things, so that these small things take care of the bigger things eventually.
Like just settling for the basics, and know that it is enough.
Like just noticing yourself, and the immediate people around you, and when they do the same, the effect of self and social responsibility will grow exponentially.
Learning how to love and care for the self and my immediate sphere of influence.
Learning to pause and trust.
And through this, cumulatively, we can be a force for good. Through individuals, through people like you and me
Compassion means “to suffer together”. Through this event, we are suffering together, whether we choose to or not.
It takes courage, to truly want to be involved, or to be directly involved in the suffering.
And by making that choice, we can perhaps see some hope in humanity, to continue to thrive and flourish, as a community, as a society.
About the Author
Michelle Ow is the founder and Human Experience Facilitator of Chrysalists Pte Ltd.