Consider the following five quotes:
“Covid has saved my life”.
“Covid has changed my life for the better.”
“Covid made me see the world differently.”
“Covid made me see my partner differently.”
“I have rather enjoyed lockdown.”
All these quotes come from people who have not had Covid of course – but they have had their lives dramatically changed by the lockdown measures – and have no intention of going back to the way their lives were before Covid.
1.“Covid has saved my life”.
This one is attributable to a friend of my son’s who used to travel four hours a day to and from work and was totally worn down by that. His firm has learnt that he doesn’t need to be in the office every day and wont be expecting him to resume his commute when lockdown comes to an end. This is a massive learning that has happened right across the economy and calls into question all sorts of infrastructure arrangements including plans to upgrade rail networks and roads which will be bearing far lower traffic flows – with the obvious benefits for the environment. I don’t imagine that everyone feels the same about not going into the “office.” Working from home can be quite isolating and even difficult with small spaces and family needing to be accommodated. Many of us have Zoom fatigue and would welcome the social interactions a workplace provides – to say nothing about the creative space that comes from bouncing ideas off one’s colleagues. But not every day!
2. “Covid has changed my life for the better.”
This quote comes from somebody I know who tells me she hardly knew anybody in her street before lockdown but now, thanks to energetic and neighbourly individuals in the road she now knows them all and feels part of a community. One person in the road (a cul-de-sac actually) ran bi-weekly exercise classes that people did on the pavement outside their houses (clearly a summer thing), another organised a roster for weekly shopping to be delivered for those who needed it, and a third organised a knitting group to make blankets for refugees. This is obviously an extraordinary street but we have heard tales from up and down the country of ordinary people going out of their way for people they didn’t previously know. Such is the kindness of strangers. And all see a new emphasis on the importance of community.
3. “Covid made me see the world differently.”
The third quote comes from a friend and came out of a discussion about how we don’t see our lives going back to where they were before. Many things that we took for granted now seem extravagant and indulgent – even reckless. Travel is one example. The cost to the environment of us taking off to here, there and everywhere without thought for the long term consequences was not sustainable anyway but this massive disruption to our habits has occasioned a more thoughtful approach. There are so many other examples that bear thinking about, some quite small in the scheme of things. Why, for example, did we buy so many clothes? Mad. The fashion industry alone has imposed a massive burden on the environment – and what made us go along with that? I had a cupboard full of clothes and didn’t see myself ever buying another thing. I now feel part of the new ‘circular economy’ and give some of my clothes to an organisation like ‘Thrift’ where they will be sold and some of the proceeds going to charity – and many more to charity shops. What was I thinking? This new economy is not limited to clothes of course. Even big brands like Ikea are joining this ‘circular’ movement. It took a pandemic to get us to wake up to exactly how gross we had become and how heedless.
4. “Covid made me see my partner differently.”
This statement needs no explanation because the divorce statistics say it all. Divorce lawyers say they are extremely busy and domestic abuse cases have rocketed. Counselling services are being strained and one counsellor tells how many calls are being made from cars and sheds and streets where people can speak more freely than they can at home. Couples that just about managed when they could spend a lot of time away from each other absolutely cannot manage 24/7. Previous coping habits just don’t work anymore. And they are doing something about it.
5. “I have rather enjoyed lockdown.“
The last quote comes from a friend who has many grandchildren and tries her best to be available to them all. Being released from duty over lockdown has made her realize how exhausting it all was and how little time it left for her to choose what she wanted to do. She has blossomed over lockdown, discovering a talent for painting, growing her own vegetables and fruit, and a host of other quiet pleasures she didn’t have time for before. Hers may be an extreme case but all of us have had to learn new ways of spending our time – and many have found it revelatory.
All this got me to thinking about how many of the ways we spend our time are habitual. We know that new habits take time to establish – and the lockdown period has been long enough to develop new habits. We might not have made the effort to change without the pandemic but now we have – and the chances are that our new habits will endure. We had better be careful we chose the right ones. We know that many of them will be formed about how we see the world. And that has changed in this last year.
I am reminded of the story that the writer David Foster Wallace told a class of graduating college students in 2005. “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way. He nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ The two young fish swim on for a bit, and eventually one of them looks over at the other and says ‘What the hell is water?’ *
*Quoted in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg