To all those facing isolation over Christmas — my Tier4 friends and family, those unable to travel to be with family, and all those in Lockdown alone.
If you are feeling sad, I see you.
If you feel you have lost something precious, I feel you. You have lost something precious. It is ‘connection’, and it is a deeply human need.
If your mind is over-riding that feeling and trying to remind you how lucky you are, can you stay with both truths?
You are lucky and privileged, and you have lost something of immense value.
‘It’s a first world problem’, we often acknowledge, when we are facing something difficult and still holding the awareness that others have it much harder. This year, we really are facing first world problems: isolation, loneliness and a lack of connection to other human beings.
Through my work, I have visited communities living in extreme poverty. I have sat with people in the slums of Bangladesh, in one-room, earth-floored houses in India’s villages, and talked with hundreds of people earning less than $1 a day. Women who walk several miles to collect water from a shared pump, which is only available on certain days of the week, and carry it home on their heads. Women who weigh up giving milk to their children or buying hair conditioner. I have seen poverty, and it is real and hard.
And yet, those families live in neighbourhoods with open doors, where life happens out on the streets. Where children play together in courtyards, and old people live with their families. They live in community. They are poor, but most of them do not lack human connection. Social isolation is indeed a first world problem.
Throughout this pandemic, it’s struck me how many people have down-played how hard their experience has been. Back in April, I read two interviews in the same week. One was a Consultant in a Covid ward, talking about how tough things were. After explaining the horrors of his reality, he said, of course, others have it much worse. I’m not facing job insecurity or worrying how to feed my family. Then I read an interview with someone facing redundancy, and he said, of course, I know others have it much worse, like the people at the front line treating Covid patients.
Everyone has had a hard year, in some form. Maybe you have been home schooling and trying to hold down a job. Maybe you’re a parent of young children, sleep-deprived and disorientated, trying to raise your kids without a village. Maybe you’re living with housemates you barely know. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Perhaps you’re pregnant, and have faced frightening hospital appointments alone.
Who has had it worse? Does it matter? Your grief, your loss and your pain is real. It does not need to be compared to someone else’s grief, loss, and pain.
The grief you feel is real. Let yourself feel it.
A CEO told me that she had cried throughout a meeting with her team, reviewing 2020. She cried as she listened to stories of isolation and loneliness from her colleagues who had spent 4-months in Melbourne’s lockdown. She cried because she felt, really, how hard this year has been for them. She is the kind of leader we need right now: compassionate, deeply feeling, connected. And our conversation made me wonder: how many more of us need to cry?
We are creatures of tribe, wildly interdependent. We are not built to belong in a Nuclear Family, to live in a single ‘household’ for months on end. It goes against our nature. And it is HARD.
Much has been said about this pandemic’s ability to shine a spotlight on what we value. I’ll add something to the mix. We value human connection. We value belonging. And most of us barely had enough of it, even before the pandemic struck.
So when we emerge from isolation, which hopefully we will, let’s remember this deep human need for connection and community. Let’s build our cities, our policies, our births, our schools and our working patterns around that.
The need for connection is a first world problem. And it is as pressing and as real as problems faced in the developing world.
So as we look forwards from this dark Solstice of 2020, and as we begin to re-build our world together: What one thing would you do differently, if connection and community were at the heart of your world?