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Cultural Musings

A reminder: care about people other than yourself

Mon 16th March, 2020


The rise of Covid-19 has prompted some odd behaviour as we enter into a collective panic. Many people's knee-jerk responses have been buried in self-interest, and although the literature on Covid-19 has been vast and inescapable, few articles remind us to care about people other than ourselves.

In the UK, where I'm from, the past few years have involved Prime Ministers stepping down, a country divided by Brexit, and a media that is increasingly unaware of the devastating impact it can have on celebrities. Every day feels like I’m waking up in an episode of "Black Mirror". Nothing surprises me anymore.

It’s becoming exhausting to have to explain that we should care about other people’s needs.

Covid-19 is a global problem. While that may not have been clear to many when the virus was isolated to areas of China, it should be clear now. The World Health Organisation didn't label it a pandemic for nothing. But recently, as I try to live my life as normal as possible out of an apartment in Sydney, I'm often thinking of a phrase that should be patented by my mother: “the world has gone mad”.

If we take anything from the rapid spread of Covid-19 it should be a rejection of individualism. Ensuring that the smallest amount of people gets sick because of the virus will only come from all of us doing things that may feel insignificant or small. In fact, many of the choices we make in the coming weeks will hopefully seem over-the-top. That's how we'll know we did enough.

If you’ve been in a supermarket recently, you’ll have probably noticed a few things are missing from the shelves. People have started preparing for an apocalypse, stocking up on toilet paper (random), hand sanitiser (understandable but still silly) and pasta (nice to see we all have the same affinity for carbs).

However, buying relentless amounts of these products only epitomises a culture diseased with individualism. In order for the spread of coronavirus to stop, we all have to be clean and cared for.

Even if you buy all of the sanitary products in a supermarket, it’s not going to stop you coming into contact with other people who caught the virus because there was no hand sanitiser left.

It’s exhausting to have to explain that we should care about other people’s needs. Not just because it’s the good thing to do, but because it’s a prerequisite to an enjoyable human experience for everyone.

It’s what living in a fair and good society is about. If coronavirus has highlighted anything, it’s that as a culture, we’ve failed to care for each other.

This moment in time should help us all realise that we have become too selfish and self-reliant. Covid-19 has forced us to recognise that we’re not alone. Some problems can’t be fixed on an individual level.

The zeitgeist movement around "you do you", "make yourself happy" and "always put yourself first" is being overturned. This is not a bad thing. To hell with all of that individualistic crap.

No man is an island, and even if you live on an island, coronavirus can find you. That sounds scary and ominous, but we don’t have to live in panic and fear about these facts.

We are all in this together, and with a little compassion, empathy and a few deep breaths we will be okay. You will have to make sacrifices. You will miss out on things you wish you hadn't. But you will have plenty of people to commiserate with about it.

For the majority of us, coronavirus doesn't appear like it will have a deadly impact. But others may not be so fortunate. As more people become sick, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society, we have to start thinking about those that need us the most. Covid-19 is a shared experience, and it must be tackled with shared values of compassion and care.

Until now, we’ve been failing to acknowledge our interdependence as a human race. In a world plagued by individualism, these moments of collective tragedy offer pulsing clarity. They make community possible, and in fact, necessary.

If you're looking for practical steps you can take to avoid the spread of coronavirus, take a look at the government guidelines. We must all practise good hygiene to protect against infection and prevent the virus spreading. This is especially important not just on an individual level but for the autoimmune, weak, and old people in society. If you can work from home, do it. If you can avoid going to areas that are usually full of people, do it. If you can make even the slightest effort towards minimising the impact of this pandemic, do it. Practise social distancing and avoid public gatherings and visits to vulnerable groups.

These are your responsibilities, but they are also ours. In a world where it is so easy to care about yourself, spend a few weeks thinking about someone else.