Kindness? Or cold hearts and hysteria? Coronavirus crisis a chance to change our story

If the way people respond in times of crisis is at all indicative of the kind of society in which we live, what do the events of the past few weeks tell us about ourselves?

Empty shelves after panic buying in a supermarket in Milan.Credit:Bloomberg

A hundred years from now, when future generations read about the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, what kind of tale will it be? And how will our actions now be reflected in the passage of time?

So far it’s not looking good.

We have been selfish and greedy, and images of empty supermarket shelves, people pulling knives on one another in the toilet paper aisle, and the fact that a whole section of our community have been unable to access the most basic of necessities are all testament to that.

The very fact stores have had to place limits on a wide range of items has exposed many of us to the uncomfortable truth that, when it comes right down to it, many of us are only interested in looking after number one.

It appears we really cannot get through a pandemic without ‘panic’.

Secondly, we are dismissive, and by dismissive I really mean reckless.

Ordinarily I ascribe to the notion that nobody is better than anyone else, and that as long as we all mind our own business, everything will be okay.

But “live and let live” takes on quite a literal meaning in times like these, and your business is now my business, as is mine to yours.

So if you’ve just flown into the country, whether it’s from a high-risk location or not, and you’re not self-isolating; if you are, in fact, just popping to the shops, or dropping in on your great grandmother at the retirement home, you are putting others in danger.

Those who don’t take the threat this health emergency poses seriously are exactly those who ensure community spread will be swift and extensive.

You will not be remembered kindly.

Then there are the flat-out racists, or the conspiracy theorists, or the self-styled experts who spruik their ill-informed opinions and poorly sourced stats and graphs all over social media.

To all of you, just stop.

At this point, with our country staring down the barrel of what looks likely to be a pretty testing time, it has become clear there’s nothing like a global health emergency to really bring out the worst in people.

And if COVID-19 doesn’t make you ill, these kinds of behaviours are enough to make anyone sick.

Quite simply, it just does not have to be this way.

If there is a silver lining to be found among the hysteria, or even among the entirely valid, quiet concern of the weeks leading up to where we are now, it too can be found in us.

For among the very worst examples of humankind we’ve seen, I have started – finally – noticing a subtle shift in the behaviour of people in our community.

I’m talking about the kindnesses being shown.

I’m talking about people organising rosters to shop for the elderly and infirm.

I’m talking about moments in our – suddenly, and drastically different – daily routines that make us stop and smile, like yesterday when I stopped in my tracks to watch a father help his little girl feed the ducks in Weld Square.

Or this morning when I overheard a woman telling her friend she gave half her package of toilet paper to an elderly man at the back of the supermarket queue.

These examples of simple pleasures and thoroughly decent acts give me some hope our story will not be confined to the ‘complete and utter disaster’ section of libraries in the future.

It’s these moments we’re going to need as this thing gets bigger; we’re going to need to still be able to smile.

But in the long race to the bottom these moments can be hard to find.

Does that mountain of Sorbent in your spare bathroom make you smile?

When this is all over and you still have 420 rolls of two-ply – when others have gone without – will you be proud of your behaviour?

We have one chance to change our story.

What’s it going to be? Dystopian horror? Or something with a little more hope for humankind?

Let’s get this right.

A great deal of lives may very well depend on what we do next, and from where I stand, there’s only one choice.

From today, from right now, let’s be better.

Let’s do better.

And I know this is corny but it’s also true, so please forgive me when I say this, COVID-19 isn’t the only thing that’s contagious.

Kindness is, too.

(Spread it around.)

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