Consent in a pandemic – 2

It’s been a week since I first wrote on this and the world has been changing fast… UK supermarkets are now empty of pasta, bread, cereal, eggs, flour, potatoes, rice, loo roll, hand santizer and other essentials. And today, the schools close, not for Easter, but for… we’re not sure how long.

All my work for the next few months has been cancelled, mostly without pay, because if it was contracted this is ‘force majeure’ and doesn’t legally have to be paid.

Several friends are in isolation with symptoms, but there’s no testing so they don’t know if they have Covid or some other nasty sickness – and that means they don’t know if they’re immune, or still at risk. One has asthma, and will need to stay in isolation because they can’t know if they’re safe or not.

The friend who’s family member has cancer is in lockdown because her kids have symptoms. She doesn’t know if she’s infected her immunosuppressed loved one, or not. She doesn’t know if she or her children might continue to present a risk or not. And the chemo treatment has been stopped because her loved one is at more risk of being exposed to and killed by Covid than they are by ongoing cancer treatment. She has to hope they outlive the lockdowns, and their funeral isn’t subject to social distancing.

And lots are carrying on like it’s all just silly panic and there’s no need to worry or change behaviour – ‘I’m not in an at risk group so I’ll just go to work and the gym and the pub as usual’, perhaps accompanied by a bit of ‘I’d better just buy all the pasta though, in case the government force me to stay in for a fortnight’. Sorry mate – Boris has finally shut the pubs and gyms just now, and there’s no pasta in any shops until people calm down.

I have a friend who has a cough and last night had a fever. She feels ok now but she works in an office with lots of people, one of whom has asthma. The bosses there have refused her repeated requests for them all to start working from home. Her cough means she’s decided to follow the NHS guidance and stay at home for 7 days. She’s anxious because her boss and some of her colleagues have been boorish and bullying about her concerns. But imagine if her colleague with asthma (who should be in isolation now anyway) caught Covid and was seriously ill or worse… how would any of them feel about it then, eh? Better safe than sorry. I’m so proud of her for staying at home.

The world is changing rapidly. We’re seeing some of the worst of people, but we’re seeing a lot of the best too – and like my brave friend, facing up to her boorish bosses, some people are using their individual and collective agency, choice and consent to make a difference, to respond and behave in line with their own ethics, rather than just following the rules and social scripts of entitlement culture.

One of the first things I did when I realised the significance of Covid, is to reach out to people I care about but don’t necessarily connect with as often as I could. That purposeful connection is, I hope, something I will want to maintain – and I hope others will too.

Like many other self employed people I’m working hard to re-imagine what I might do to pay my bills, and at the same time contribute to collective efforts, rather than just look after myself. I’ve joined a fast-growing online community on Facebook, freelancers coming together to share ideas, lobby for support, lean on and assist each other. I joined when there were about 300 members and in less than a week that’s grown to 12.5k, with a small, self-organised team of moderators who are consistently impressed by how cooperative and inclusive the group is being.

Via social media, and offline community voluntary efforts, so many people are trying to help and support each other. I can barely navigate online without falling over more and more free resources for home schooling my child. Neighbourhood support groups are setting up, rapidly, to get practical help to vulnerable people in lockdown. The government doesn’t seem to have much in place to support the homeless or foodbanks – but grassroots networks are trying to. There is hope among the doom and gloom, if you look for it.

We’re looking at a long haul, it seems – the panic buying will subside and when the pasta is back on the shelves, maybe more people will start to think about what they can do to help each other, not just their nearest and dearest.

And what will the world look like on the other side of this crisis? When we’ve survived this, will it be business as usual – or will there be a new ‘normal’?

It will no longer be credible for a boss to tell their staff they can’t make a reasonable adjustment around their health, they possibly work from home, they must keep working when they’re sick… the people who’re coping best with self isolation are the ones who are used to it already – because their disability or vulnerability have meant that they’ve had to insulate themselves from the harshness of 21st century life already, just to survive in the world we’ve all created.

Of course, not everyone will learn and grow and connect through this. Some will retain the power to be selfish – and some will stay selfish and be lucky enough to survive. But some will change the way they see the world, humanity and their place within it – some will see that they can be the change. So, while we’re in the midst of this pandemic and talking about herd immunity, maybe we can reflect what else we can do as a herd – how we can heal ourselves and our planet from the harm of the culture we had before the crisis. There’s hope on the horizon, and it’s more than just survival. If enough of us change, connect, hope, build community, consent and love, then the culture has shifted and it can’t slip back.

20 March 2020

© JENNY WILSON and LOVEOFFSCRIPT.CO.UK, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to JENNY WILSON and LOVEOFFSCRIPT.CO.UK with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

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