COVID can it instigate the new Age of Enlightenment?

As the world is beginning to open up step by step during this pandemic I have been taking time to think about what I have learned from it, what the world may have learned from it, and perhaps of greatest importance what we should be taking from it before we all rush to get back to ‘normal life’.  Through reflection on the positive aspects of this extremely testing and for many of us highly emotional and sad times, we can hold onto more of what is truly important to humanity as we create the future that exists on the other side. For me, there are four key areas of learning that have come out of this pandemic and its effects.  The importance of people, the power of spending more time knowing your self, the need for and benefits of a better balance between humans and nature and the need to change consumerism/ materialism.

When it became clear that this pandemic was taking hold and how many people were going to lose loved ones as a result, the importance of friends, family, and community was brought to the fore.  Ironically our care for those we loved was seen in our efforts to avoid them physically so that we do not put them at risk, and on the flip side of this, the positive connection that technology provides came into its own.  We are social, community beings and the sudden removal of interpersonal connection from our lives has been extremely trying for many. Living overseas from my family and most of my long-standing friends, it has been comforting to see communication open up so much between those of us who can’t be together.  It took COVID for my parents, myself, and my brother and his family to have our first group video chat.  I have been doing online yoga lessons with, and group chats with people who in the past I would only speak to when I saw them in person, which was often only once a year.  Even when I lived in the UK, friends who lived in other areas I would generally only speak with when we arranged to meet in person, and we know as adults how difficult it is to plan weekend meetups more often than twice a year. This is an aspect I hope we can hold onto for it gives us the ability to be more connected to more of our loved ones despite geographical locations.  Remember the days when you used to just call someone and perhaps they answer the phone, perhaps they don’t.  This is something I hope to take forward with me and hope that others will be open to as well.

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members

Unknown

On the flip side, the absence of physical interactions at work, the gym or the local coffee shop for example, has meant that we are all spending far more time with ourselves at home. Such a sudden change is a drastic experiment in self, suddenly you find yourself faced with, well yourself, more intensely than most of us ever have and this can be mighty harrowing! ‘Me time’ or ‘self-reflection’ is still viewed negatively in many ways and has become a bit cliché, yet it is very powerful. Downtime can give the brain and body the time it needs to restore and revitalise.  Again self-development has developed a bad-rep in many ways, I used to think of it as rather self-indulgent and ego-driven.  Yet I now know the practice of self-reflection is neither of these things.  It is about taking time to know what is important to you, to break away from the expectations of others, that are often leading you through your subconscious mind without you realising it’s happening nor others realising they influenced you.  We are all interconnected and always influencing each other, only in your own space can you realise what matters to you and who you wish to be as a person.  By growing self-awareness this way you can endlessly improve your interpersonal skills by being more aware of how you may be perceived and being clearer in what you say, which has a positive impact on all who you meet or influence indirectly.  It is, therefore, my hope that this isolation that was inflicted upon us, provides a little self-reflection opportunity that everyone can cultivate and develop into the future, to allow us all to be more aware of ourselves, each other and our joint impact on the planet. Which leads me nicely into my next musing around the need to better balance with nature.

Sometimes you just need to stop and check if you’ve been a bit of a dick

I said it!

Certainly, some of the evidence showing how the natural world has flourished in the lockdown have could be a little exaggerated.  However, some are simply undeniable – look at a map of the flights going across the world in 2019 vs the same period April 2020 and it is clear there is a major reduction, which is a major reduction in fuel usage, which is a proven contaminant for our atmosphere.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m also aware and empathetic of how economically painful this reduction in travel has been globally and for many personally.  My point is to consider what can we do differently in the future to strike more of a balance? The human race since the ‘age of enlightenment’ and the growth of modern science, has seemingly distanced itself more and more from nature, as if humans are above or control nature in some way.  The reality, however, is that we are also animals/beings of this natural world, even if we have evolved far ahead of others and developed incredible knowledge and technology along the way.  The author Mia Kalef talks of the age of enlightenment as when Science and Experience as an initially loving couple went off in their separate ways, each forgetting about the other and each losing a little piece of themselves.  I would like to see a world where science and experience, science and the natural world work together once again. We cannot escape the fact that at our core we are simply another animal on this planet, and as the more evolved species, I believe it is our responsibility to protect the natural world around us not simply take from it. 

I’m no longer sceptical. I no longer have any doubt at all. I think climate change is the major challenge facing the world

David Attenborough

We have seen evidence of how nature can thrive when we ease consumerism and our desire to have whatever we want when we want it, so I see both challenge and excitement post-COVID in finding ways to enjoy our human experience, to enjoy human-made technologies and material goods but in a way that also gives back to or supports nature.  Ultimately each £ or $ that we spend is a choice, a vote even, in how we want the world to be so I hope that we can seek a change in economies that promotes and supports sustainable, ethical practices above fast results, convenience, and endless profit goals.  I’m from the business world so please notice the use of the word ‘endless’. I recognise the benefits of a certain level of profits, it allows re-investment for continual improvements, it enables bonuses for work completed (although much improvement in this area needed for many firms I would argue).  There is, however, a tipping point at which additional profits could be put to more positive use such as developing local communities, supporting inclusivity and supporting the protection of nature.  I hope for an economic revolution that focuses on the production and purchase of products that are in balance with nature and humanity so that these products become accessible to all and through that they become the norm.  For now, I hope that everyone can simply become more conscious of where and how they spend their money.  That people stop to recognise when or if they put convenience before consideration of the effect on people or environment and to choose the sustainable or ethical option whenever they are able, as each £ spent on a product that supports the environment is a vote for the future we live in.

My dream of an economic revolution that is in balance with the needs of wider society and nature links very closely with materialism and consumerism and my hopes for an anti-consumer movement. The term ‘consumer’ is noted to have been coined in 1955 by John Bugas of Ford Motor Company – it changed the nature of our spending from being about need to want. As time moved forward we were all taught we had the right to have whatever we want, when we want it, and sadly then it became about everything being as cheap as possible.  I am not a consumer, I am a conscious purchaser.  I accept it may sound a bit pretentious but I haven’t seen or come up with anything better yet.  The point is simply that these days I stop and think before I buy things. I actively take time to be aware what affect adverts are having on me, because advertising is clever, psychologists have been paid to help create advertising strategies that will ‘sell’ to you, whether you need it or not. I have been and I am sure that at some point I will again, be a lemming responding to what an advert is luring me to do, but I don’t want to do this. 

We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like

Unknown

I want to spend my money only on what I need and truly value.  This doesn’t mean I need to live as a hermit in a cave.  I have worked in fashion and interiors, I love a beautiful aesthetic but rather than rush out and buy a picture to fill a space, for example, I will take time to research options from an aesthetic, sustainable and ethical point of view to inform my choice.  I recently ordered a woven wall hanging through a fabulous one-person company in Kelowna, BC Canada.  It will cost more than a standard print but I have been saving for it and I also asked some family to help out with it when they asked what I’d like for my birthday, and I know that when this crafted beauty comes into my life it will mean a million times more than had I bought a standard print from Home Sense or Anthropologie.  I have a hope that from COVID and the financial strain it has put on many of us, that we can all become much more conscious in our purchasing and that we can support small and local wherever possible.  I believe that local is the way forward.  It is not to say there is no place for larger companies nor that they all do bad things, I simply believe our lives can be more fulfilled and full of far more wonderful things if we can support our local economy to fulfil a higher percentage of our needs and even wants.  I also believe that the comparison to and judgement of others, is one of the strongest grasps that materialism has on us, so I hope that the outdated notion of ‘keeping up with the Jones’ can be kicked firmly out of the door – you do you.

As consumers we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy

Emma Watson (i love her!)

All of these hopes and dreams will of course require tremendous change and having created and lived through a number of major changes I am aware that it is not easy. Change can be frightening, it is rarely fast and can be very tiring.  However, the picture of the damage that human activity will have on this planet has been painted clearly and backed up with scientific evidence for a long time.  If ever there has been a calling to make a change it is now and I truly hope that we, those of us here on this planet right now, can be the ones who together instigate change.  It will start with opening our minds to new possibilities, to not just accept going back to the way things were, to embrace new people, new ideas, new ways of living, to embrace the concept of slowing down and not demanding everything so quickly.  If we slow down there is more time for ourselves, for each other, for the planet and for better, kinder, more sustainable products and services in our lives.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is the smallest step toward the change you want to see; a donation to a cause you believe in, swapping your standard razor for an old-style safety razor to reduce your plastic use, buying your meat locally for one week a month as that’s all you can afford, buying the wooden dish brush over the plastic one, offer to do groceries for an elderly neighbour.  Don’t believe that your small actions do not count, when it comes to change, as Mr. Tesco once said ‘every little counts’.

Be the change you wish to see in the world

Mahatma Gandhi

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