Humans find it impossible to avoid close contact and touching. We are just not wired to stay far apart from each other. As much as I wished, in pre-lockdown days, that I could insist that shoppers behind me in the line would stand behind floor decals 2 metres away from me, or imagined ramming my trolley back onto the toes of halitotic queue creepers, such violent fantasies are no longer necessary. And we are struggling without the contact now.
The Maestro and I enjoyed a breakfast at Mugg &Bean this morning and while he enjoyed tasteless and tediously titivating TikTok after his sausages and eggs, I people-watched:
Besides the responsible types who remain masked and greeted their friends from across the wasteland of a coffee shop table (amazing how clean the tables are mind you – sprayed and wiped between each sitting) with an elbow bump, the majority of patrons meeting family and acquaintances, could not resist a hug of greeting. I witnessed hand-patting, arm-stroking and kissing. Shocking.
So much for social distancing.
But it’s not their fault. We humans need touch. According to Professor Robin Dunbar who is an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford, primates are reliant on the endorphins and oxtytocins (the good hormones, not the street drugs) that are released when we touch each other. It’s part of being ‘social.’ That’s why, when you add ‘distant,’ it seems so impossible for us to maintain.
It’s one of the things so hard to control at school, or any workplace. It’s why it is so concerning that the nation’s children were sent ‘home’ from school to avoid contracting the virus; yet have been roaming the malls and streets, in packs, unprotected by masks and hanging onto each other. Expect a spike in the stats when they return to school and infect each other and their teachers some more.And it must be really hard for those who live alone or are confined to care homes during the pandemic.
“The effects of touch are physiological, bioelectrical and biochemical,” agrees Tiffany Field, founder of the Touch Research Institute at Miami Medical School. “Moving the skin (as, for example, in hugging, massaging and exercise) stimulates pressure receptors which are transmitted to the vagus nerve, the largest cranial nerve that has many branches in the body. Increased vagal activity calms the nervous system (e.g. slows heart rate and leads to EEG patterns that accompany relaxation). It also reduces cortisol – the culprit stress hormone – that then saves natural killer cells that kill viral, bacterial and cancer cells.”
Helen Coffey, quoted in The Independent
So, tactile stimulation heals us; losing it can reduce our ability to fight disease.
Except with COVID-19.
Prof Dunbar reckons we’ll be ok in the long run, but in the meantime, many of us are struggling to stay connected… laughter is apparently good for producing the happy hormones as does visual stimulus, so keep those video calls going with family members in old age homes or those who live alone.
Perhaps there is method in my husband’s weird social media tastes after all.
Several people I know have lost loved ones during the Age of Corona to both the virus and other causes. Our particular lockdown levels have strict limits on mourning though: funerals are limited to fifty persons, wakes and night vigils are prohibited even under Level 3. You can’t hug the bereaved or cross provincial borders unless you are close family. I have not attended funerals of a few people I might otherwise have gone to to pay my respects.
It is bad enough to face the sudden or even expected death of someone you have loved, but not to be able to celebrate their lives and be comforted is especially hard.
Two deaths of famous people this week brought home to me how difficult it must be to grieve in the middle of a pandemic, as well as how sad it is that the lives of two people who spent their whole lives dedicated to our country should not be commemorated with appropriate ceremony at their passing.
Both Zindziswa Mandela and Andrew Mlangeni have passed away this month and I am moved by the fact that both have lost out on the kind of farewell that would be fitting – because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wrote about them in this week’s school newsletter:
I have often wondered about the childhood Zindzi endured as her parents sacrificed so much for the freedom of the nation. Yet she proved her mettle time and time again, missing out on her schooling in the struggle, advocating for her mother to the United Nations (when she was just 12!) and boldly defying PW Botha on her father’s behalf.
Mr Mlangeni stood at Madiba’s side at the Rivonia trial and suffered with him on Robben Island for over twenty years. Our flags at school are flying at half-mast until Wednesday to honour his quiet strength and life of sacrifice for us all. But it doesn’t seem enough.
Our children can learn so much from his wisdom:
“One of the biggest prisons we were afraid of being locked up in though, was the jail of ignorance.”
Andrew Mlangeni, ‘The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story’
What power there is in learning from the great people who gave up so much for freedom. To our learners I say, respect the education that comes so easily to you now. Those who made it possible studied sporadically, far from home and, in many cases, in prison.
How small these deaths (and their lives) make me feel about moaning about corona-stress; and how sad I am that neither of these two leaders who fought for us with such courage and wisdom can be publicly celebrated as they deserve because of the enemy-virus.
But I take from their lives the knowledge that a life relinquishing selfish goals and focused on the greater good will make a difference; will have an impact and will change the world.
“We need to live in a world that is ego-free and humble ourselves to talent, wisdom, and courage, when it reveals itself.”
Mourners have only the comfort that Cicero referred to when he said that the life of a person is implanted in the memory of those left behind, and the knowledge that their passing changes us and becomes part of us too.
The Maestro and I had a delightful over-fifties (his comment) stroll along the beachfront today. (Well, he ambled, while I jogged to keep up – it sucks to be short.)
What we noticed on our route march was how many good citizens of Bloubergstrand are not wearing masks in public at all. (And I’m not talking about just pulling it down to defog your Armani Sunglasses, or when you are dying of heat behind it, when no one is close) It’s a bit scary especially with the wave of new infections washing over our country. Beds are filling up around the country’s field hospitals and ministers are whispering about reversing lockdown levels. Yet ordinary Joe Soaps are tired of it all, perhaps because the invisible virus doesn’t seem realistic to most folks, or we’re just bored of the regimentation caused by COVID regulations.
Yet anyone who has been to a doctor’s room recently will have noticed how different everything is. My son, Michael, suffers from regular, intense migraines and last week had to be rushed to the emergency room at our local hospital. He arrived while the migraine aura was just starting, normally plenty of time to get heavy painkillers and sleep it off. This time though, in the middle of a work day, the queue to be triaged was out the door. So, poor Michael, while not dying, certainly suffered a great deal standing outside in the sun, and reached the vomit stage of his attack before being allowed in, fortunately making it to the loo and not the flowerbed.
The problem is not just corona cases, it’s the protocols requiring complete decontamination of every emergency room cubicle before the next patient can be taken. But what Michael said afterwards, resonated with me: He said he didn’t mind having to wait, even though it was horrible for him) because at least two people bypassing the queue were a small child who couldn’t breathe and a cyanotic, old man … (or 2 COVID-19 patients?) neither of whom could have their family in with them, because of the new rules…and the nature of the disease.
The World Health Organisation says this pandemic is still in its infancy. Yesterday marked 6 months since the WHO was first alerted to a cluster of COVID-19 cases in China and now, with over 10 million cases worldwide and 500 000 deaths, they are saying it is far from over.
I’m just not sure that the good people of the Blouberg quite get it. It’s insulting that people don’t wear their masks to protect other individuals. My mask protects you; your mask protects me. So will you please flippin’ protect me!
My sister says that people are crazy to go to restaurants during this time – I didn’t dare tell her that we visited our home-away-from-home, News Café after our beachfront dash. But they are being conscientious about hygiene that’s for sure: Patrons are screened, tables are sterilized and marked as such, and staff are masked and gloved. Eateries the world over are trying creative ways of controlling social distancing like this Parisian restaurant which is using giant teddy bears to occupy banned seats:
This German establishment also decided to have some fun to remind people to keep apart:
A Dutch diner is using robots to do screening checks and serve customers:
This restaurant, also in the Netherlands designed little cabanas for each table:
And clever masks are also being designed: Gotta love this one which allows you to open it when you want to eat:
It seems that restaurants are really trying to protect patrons as they begin their post-lockdown life.
The question is: what are Jo and Jozi Public doing to protect themselves?
According to health officials, this virus is quite a wuss when it comes to Jik and sanitizers. And masks work. But the WHO reminds us that the pandemic is speeding up. It is not even close to being over, so we need to get over our boredom with the rules, suck it up and think about each other. Because next time it could be one of us in the queue at the hospital.
‘Beware of the half-truth. You may have gotten hold of the wrong half.’
The Western Cape is no longer testing patients who present with flu-like symptoms. So sick people have to assume they have COVID-19 until they are well and are often quarantined for up to 14 days, even though they only have normal flu, because those other nasty germs haven’t gone away because Big Brother Corona is on the rampage.
Consequently, a week or so ago, we had so many facilities staff members absent and booked off for a significant period that we were forced to contract with a cleaning company for a few days, for additional staff to ensure the school was clean, given all the additional hygiene routines that are required with the new protocols connected to protecting our school community from the COVID-19 virus.
Although this was mentioned to a small group of staff, the reasons behind the move were not understood or properly explained (I realise now) to the staff in all three schools on campus. The next week we began hearing rumours that our facilities staff were looking into signing up with unions and there appeared to be general unrest on the staff, which surprised me because we have had a peaceable, open relationship with our staff in the time I have been at the school. It was only at a routine meeting a few days later that one employee eventually spoke up and asked, ‘What is this with these other cleaners?’
In a moment of clarity, I saw the cause of the misconception. The staff thought we were planning to outsource our cleaning function permanently. Fortunately, I was able to explain the misunderstanding easily enough and reassure them that their jobs were safe, and our institution’s relationships returned to normal. However, I realized then how a simple misunderstanding can have massive consequences whether at work or at home. Trust takes ages to build up and one miscommunication or misunderstanding can destroy it.
In other news, my child who shall remain anonymous, was instructed last week to give away packets of old clothes I’d collected from the early days of lockdown when I was gung ho about tidying. ‘But not the coats and evening dresses in the cupboard,’ I said (several times). Needless to say, I got home on Friday to find the entire cupboard bare of not just the old clothes but all my winter and evening wear.
What I learned from these two experiences were the following three things:
Communication is so important – and, as leaders we should consider in advance how decisions may appear, in order to forestall possible panic (not to mention losing one’s coats).
Honesty and transparency are essential for trust.
Get the whole story.
Fact check everything – surely Trump’s aversion to the truth has taught us that!
Apologise when you break rules one to three.
And forgive others when they get things wrong.
If only characters like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello, to name but a few of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes had had the benefit of hindsight and an opportunity to make good. Then again, what the appearance-reality theme illustrates in so many of his plays is precisely how ruinous misunderstandings can be.
The magnitude of Shakepeare’s genius is in his depiction of the genuine human condition. Unfortunately, we often react (and overreact too) before checking whether we have been properly informed. It’s not necessarily the equivocations of our enemies which cause such misunderstandings, it has also happened that major events in history have resulted from misinterpretations caused by mistranslations:
Did you know that the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan at the end of World War II, because of a mistranslation of the Japanese word ‘mokusatu’ (‘We withhold comment’) as ‘We are treating your message with contempt’ (in response to ‘Will you surrender?’). You’d think they would have checked such a thing, but President Truman essentially ordered the deaths of a quarter of a million people because of that!
History is littered with such poor translations, from Krushchev’s Russian as more threatening than he was being, to the Maori’s being shafted at Waitangi by the Brits. Mars was identified as potentially having intelligent life after the ‘canali’ (which an Italian astronomer mapping the planet’s ‘seas, channels, continents’ called them) were translated into English as ‘canals.’
We all know about the concept of ‘broken telephones’ where hearers repeat a story slightly differently each time in the retelling, sometimes to the point that the original meaning is completely distorted. It’s how rumours spread and very few check with the original speaker to corroborate the accuracy of what has been quoted.
‘Nice guys finish last’ is a misrepresentation of what a baseball manager (Leo Durocher) actually said and Sherlock Holmes never said, ‘Elementary, dear Watson.’ Nobody says, ‘Play it again, Sam’ in Casablanca. The much-maligned Marie Antoinette probably never said ‘Let them eat cake (‘gateau’)’ although the person who did, used the word ‘brioche’ which is a type of bread enriched with butter and eggs so the intention was the same, but still.
One has to ask how many men have felt encouraged to explore their baser instincts because of that inaccurate reflection of Leo Durocher, who was not encouraging negative behaviour when he pondered aloud that an opposing team had really ‘nice guys in it.’ How many patronising mansplainings or putdowns have concluded with ‘Elementary, my dear Watson?’ I wonder how many wannabe seduction moments have included the faux quote from Casablanca.
Sometimes of course misunderstandings are just incorrect use of grammar: Neil Armstrong’s famous ‘one small step for man; a giant leap for mankind’ is nonsensical and should have been ‘one small step for A man; a giant leap for mankind.’
Computer algorithms are not exempt. The Mariner 1 crash in 1962 was caused by a missing overbar (a small line placed above script). I wonder if that’s what happens to the bank code when I use my card at the grocery store?…
One of the problems facing educators in this Age of Corona teaching is the inability to read the faces of our students, because of the mandatory, ubiquitous masks. Unless a person has extremely expressive eyebrows, has expressive forehead furrows, or crinkles their eyes up when they smile, it’s really hard to know what they are thinking and we cannot tell how they are feeling. Since relationships are so important to us in education, I think it’s time we encourage bushy eyebrow exercises in Life Orientation classes to accommodate the need to project and interpret brow gymnastics.
Life is so fraught with miscommunication, one could be forgiven for feeling paralysed by indecision at times. Take marriage for instance, where we often end up in arguments over silly misunderstandings. But there is another way to look at it: in the words of Oscar Wilde,
‘The proper basis for marriage is mutual misunderstanding.’
The Maestro thinks I’m beautiful – I’m going with that…
What a beautiful name for a beautiful woman, who was about to give birth to another beautiful girl-child.
And yet she won’t because both were murdered.
I am sickened by the inability of our society to rid this world of gender-based violence. All these cute little catchy phrases like GBV and BLM mean nothing to Tshegofatso’s mother. I don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘All lives matter’ or ‘’ it’s not all men.’ That means nothing to Tshego’s mom either. In fact it is downright insulting. It’s an outrage.
It is time that men owned this problem. I am impressed to hear Tshegofatso’s uncle speak out in this vein. Just how are we raising our sons that they have such contempt for the sanctity of life? And lawyers (men) like him need to stand up and be counted now.
I have just watched the Jeffrey Epstein documentary on Netflix and again I am sick to my stomach at (male) lawyers who stand accused of at best not doing their jobs, and at worst collusion and guilt of abuse of so many young women.
What struck me was one survivor saying, “you won’t remember me because there were so many, but I will be forced to remember you for the rest of my life.’
And what about the others who stand accused: the powerful Bill Clintons, ‘Prince’ Andrews? Donald Trumps? Harvey Weinstein has at least gone to jail and fallen from grace, and back home Uyinene’s murderer will never see the light of day again (we hope). But all those famous ones…? Will this all be swept under the carpet and are they hoping the dust will settle so they can just carry on as before? Like ‘Khwezi’s’ infamous violator? He certainly has. Has anyone investigated Alexander Acosta? Will they?
What about the #MeToo Movement, #TimesUp, and in our own country, The Rhodes Reference List and all the female-led protests? How successful have they been in changing the narrative of femicide and rape in the world?
But the real question is: where are the men leading the way in combating the abuse? I am sick of hearing the gaslighting that goes on around this issue, like ‘men also get raped you know.’ That’s not the point and just as it’s gaslighting to say that ‘all lives matter,’ so does that argument not hold water when women are not safe anywhere, even during lockdown. In 3 weeks of lockdown, gender-based violence units recorded 120 000 calls. Let’s just unpack that: 120 000 in 21 days…5714 women per day! And that’s the ones who were able to seek help.
And we’re worried about COVID-19?!
None of what I am saying is new or startling and that is the greatest tragedy. We have heard it all before. Every now and again a case will grab the headlines and people will march and protest and then it’s back to business as usual. In fact, in Gauteng, people returning from an anti-GBV rally in Gauteng last week, found the body of yet another woman near Soweto. She is still unidentified though, so no headlines for her…
It’s these murders and rapes that make me extra angry. It’s not just famous actresses crying out it’s a young woman at a festival, a schoolgirl walking home from school, a child in her home, refugees and war victims. I have listened to and read the essays of too many students over the years to have patience for this anymore.
After Uyinene died, my school took a day to purge social media of posts, jokes or anything that smacked of rape culture in an effort to examine our own culpability; yet toxic masculinity is more pervasive and ingrained in the human race than that.
I once watched a father berate a young female teacher with vile language in front of his own son. Needless to say, he didn’t last long at my school, but I often think about him and his son, and wonder what kind of adult that young man will become.
A word to the women who defend their sons and lovers : shame on you. When you raise your sons by different standards and indulge that ‘boys’ will be boys’ mentality, and let them believe they are little princes in your home, you are guilty of encouraging rape culture.
But what I really want to know is what men are doing about it. All those people who worked for Jeffrey Epstein knew what he was doing; yet did nothing; even if, like the man who managed the island communications, they resigned, they still didn’t stop it. I don’t get that!
I have been sexually harassed in the workplace (it ended badly for him); I have had men try to intimidate me physically and mentally and I have even had someone try to kill me, but as Maya Angelou says, ‘Still like dust, I rise.’ As Sylvia Plath (who was abused by her famous husband too btw) also said, ‘we shall inherit the earth’. But at what cost?
Silence gives consent, gents. It’s time you spoke up; stood up and grew up. This is not a female problem. It’s a male problem. YOU fix it.
Don’t you dare comment on women’s bodies or laugh at sexist jokes; don’t you dare use female body parts as pejoratives, because then YOU are part of rape culture. Don’t you dare victim blame or defend men’s actions. Don’t you dare patronize women you work with or assume that a ‘yes’ to dinner means yes to sex. Don’t you dare think that your punching her is her fault, or that you have ANY right to her body, married or not.
Because then you might as well have stabbed Tshegofatso yourself.
Aristotle believed that there are seven causes for the changes in human behaviour.
COVID-19 has certainly been a major disrupter. I saw a TED Talk once about how to form positive habits in just 30 days. So, I thought, ‘Ok I shall make some positive changes while we’re incarcerated at home.’ Some have been good changes; others… through no fault of mine, I declare… not so much.
This is what has changed since lockdown for me:
1. I’m writing
On the plus side, I am writing again every day, which is for me like going to gym…without the gym. I feel rejuvenated afterwards, and it’s fun.
I have ring-fenced me-time slightly better, although I can see this resolution slipping since the return to school process has started. I have enjoyed getting more sleep than usual and hope that I can try to limit the number of nights I burn the midnight oil.
Traffic is better -I am hoping that more companies have realized that they can in fact trust their administrators to work from home. Please. I’d like to be able to sail through as we are able to do now – gives me an extra 15 minutes sleep every morning.
Unfortunately, I have given up reading books temporarily. Well of course that’s because the library is closed and I just cannot do online books. Not with our wifi. Just when you get to the end of a page or an exciting part of the narrative, damned if it freezes and then when it finally reloads it’s back at the point you were when you picked it up. And it’s hard to get quality books for free on the internet, and I just can’t get myself to spend money on a book which I am only going to read once. I’m tightfisted like that. Having said that, If I can solve my data issues, this could be a revolutionary change in my life.
5. My car is dirty
This is a sad story. Car washes are not yet open so picture my excitement when the oil change light came on. ‘Oh good,’ I thought, ’I can get my car cleaned at last.’ Not so lucky: the service centre was operating on skeleton staff and so no non-essential stuff (like car valeting apparently) was happening.
I got even though. Unintentionally I swear…
After dropping off my car and having to rope in my husband to transport me further, I received a call informing me I’d been in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 (Fortunately all is now well with said-person, so I can tell this story). As a good citizen, I now needed to inform the garage that there was a chance that I had contracted the virus and that I’d send in my husband to collect my car later. Well they weren’t having any of that – they delivered the car, hooted and left the keys on the roof… It was a little disconcerting I must say, although I can totally understand their temerity to come anywhere near me, but it did make me think I should buy a bell while I was out having a COVID test so I could yell ‘unclean’ as I walked. Of course, I didn’t need to …I was driving for one, and secondly my car was also still ‘unclean.’
Not even all this rain has sorted it out.
I guess I could wash the car myself; but, well…perish the thought.
Spending so much time at home has made me realise how inhospitably cold it is in our house, so I have allowed the heaters to go on. We’re spending a fortune on electricity, but it is so cosy – at least we shall be warm and poor.
7. Grocery Shopping
… because we are going to be poor. Has anyone else found they are spending so much more on food? My grocery bill has skyrocketed with all of us at home constantly. I used to be able to buy clothes every month. No more. I’m barely breaking even. Now it’s biscuits and chocolate and other exotic snacks I don’t usually buy, along with fancy juices and lots of everything in case we need to hunker down again… And that darling little suit I nipped into Zara to purchase just before lockdown, is never going to fit me now!
Education will never be the same again. There will be a clear BC (before Corona) and AV (After Vaccine) in the timelines of every organization. At this stage, at my school, we are adjusting to a hybrid form of teaching and learning with some learners and others logging onto our livestreams from home. With no gatherings in the immediate future, events like valedictory and matric dances present real challenges, which we shall have to meet with some creativity. The coronavirus has single celled dragged us into the 21st century technology-wise and that’s a good thing, but I am sad to see us reverting to industrial-age rows in an effort to social-distance and losing the collaborate hubs we were using. We have to be creative about that too going forward.
I just hope that all the positive changes that have taken place in our society, like appreciating medical staff more than celebrities, lower data costs, families revelling in their home activities and banks being kinder on debt repayments, will remain, but I fear that once things return to some semblance of normalcy I fear that selfishness and sloth will return… just as the urge to exercise has diminished now that it is no longer forbidden fruit to jog.
I’ll leave you to decide which of the above changes fall under each of Aristotle’s headings. But, no matter the cause behind the positive changes at least, it is definitely time to turn some into excellence:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.”
We’ve had a hectic few years but at least we’ve learnt some science and a few new words.
How I have loved the storms of the last couple of days! As a Capetonian, there is nothing quite like snuggling down in your warm bed as the tempest rages beyond. Hearing the rain lashing the windows when you are warm and safe indoors heightens the sanctity of your haven. At last we are having the winter storms again that I remember from my childhood, with thunder and lightning, and driving rain .
At home, where I sit at my desk, I look out onto our front garden and the road beyond it. Yesterday as I worked on my laptop in the late afternoon, the storm winds were propelling the deluge across the balcony and the road was flooding from the many sudden downpours that had already dumped more rain in one day than we had the whole year in 2017 when we had such a drought in Cape Town.
Remember when ‘Prevent Day Zero’ was the rallying cry to save our province from running out of potable water and we came within a month or two of doing that? We had to change the way we did things at school then too. Who remembers having to work out how to wash all those aftercare dishes without covering the earth in the plastic and disposables we’d been avoiding up until then, (because we’d always ensured we ‘re-used’ rather than chucked); or figuring out where to sink a borehole; learning words like ‘reticulation’ and learning how dams are made. We showered with a bucket (we still do, good citizen teachers that we are); and of course we didn’t flush! But we got used to it. And we survived to stand in delight under the first showers which broke the drought.
Then came that euphemism to beat all others; ‘loadshedding’ (It’s a ‘power failure‘ damnit!’) And we learnt terms like ‘grid’ and ‘overloaded;’ we tried switching off the geysers to save power and got into trouble with the landlord for damaging the switch. We discovered the horrors of the Eskom financials and at school we installed solar lights in our driveway and sourced generators to ensure we could run a school dependent on technology, not to mention examinations. That is what I was busy with when COVID-19 sashayed across the globe.
And suddenly, we were thrust into a world of epidemiology and virology and have learnt about face masks and what the correct concentration of alcohol in hand sanitizer should be (70%); and terms like ‘social-distancing,’ ‘flattening the curve,’ ‘floor decals ‘and ‘lockdown,’ not to mention my own worst one: SOPs.
What do these crises all have in common? Us. People that’s who. Humans over-farm; crooks rob our state-owned entities blind and if we didn’t invade animals territories we wouldn’t have viruses jumping species (We won’t get into that the little corona bug could have been manufactured, because there’s just no way someone would do that… is there?… is there?)
It’s one thing to have these crises in successive year, but since we’re talking about storms (well I was, but became horrible sidetracked), what it happened that a perfect storm of events resulted in
What do these crises all have in common? Us. People that’s who. Humans over-farm; crooks rob our state-owned entities blind and if we didn’t invade animals’ territories we wouldn’t have viruses jumping species (We won’t get into that the little corona bug could have been manufactured, because there’s just no way someone would do that… is there?… is there?)
It’s one thing to have these crises in successive years, but since we’re talking about storms (well I was, but became horrible sidetracked), what if it happened that a perfect storm of events resulted in all of these things happening at the same time: you know a deadly virus, running rampant around the country, in the midst of a drought and then we run out of electricity…You think it can’t happen?
Well almost exactly one year ago we were watching Notre Dame burn; then three major reports published in journals “Nature” and “Nature Geoscience” declared that global warming is the fastest it’s been in 2,000 years and scientific consensus that humans are the cause is at 99%; exactly a year ago, tens of thousands of people began to riot in Hong Kong; just six months ago the majority of Brits voted for Boris Johnson. And you think it’s not all our own fault?
We’ve brought it all on ourselves.
For now I’m just happy to have a good old Cape squall. How much worse can 2020 get?… Perhaps I shouldn’t ask. But then again:
‘Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.’
The Dalai Lama was once asked if he could reduce the essence of all that is common to major religions into one word, and legend has him saying that that word is ‘compassion.’
This has stayed with me for a long time and underpinned what I find so powerful in my own faith. It’s something others have shown to me and which, as I grow older and hopefully a bit wiser, I am growing to see as singularly important in my dealings with others.
It requires a gentleness and empathy and a slowness of pace, a giving of your time to someone else’s world. And compassion defined as ‘feeling with’ another, an entering into someone else’s suffering.
Here are some things I have learned about compassion:
1. Compassion upholds the dignity of another
If you treat people with mercy and gentleness, you have recognized the humanity in each. It gives life to the Hindu greeting of ‘Namaste,’ (The sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you.) It’s saying, ‘I see you’ when an individual may be feeling invisible.
2. Suffering can increase your compassion
The more hurt, grief, betrayal, penury and bullying you endure, the greater the potential for deepening your own compassion.
After my mother died I became intensely aware of how desperate people can feel when they lose someone they love and I became much better at helping my students and their parents (and indeed my own friends) through their times of grief.
When my first marriage broke up, I became more understanding of the aching paralysis experienced when one stands bereft of the love of your life and its meaning, not to mention the poverty that often accompanies betrayal and abandonment.
I’ve survived toxic work environments and determined never to pit employees against each other and always to remember that staff members are human beings, not numbers to discard on a whim. I have seen both in various settings.
Recognizing the humanity in other people actually allows you to forgive your enemies because when you imagine them as suffering fellow travelers in life, it’s easier to let go of hurt.
3. You need to have an imagination
The Age of Corona has heightened the need for both empathy and compassion for people we’ve never met. I must care about people I don’t know. I must imagine what situation that person in the shop is going home to and be moved to wear my mask properly, stay on my own jolly decal on the floor and sanitize, not to mention refrain from going out when I’m sick. (Of course understanding how others may feel can lead to unnecessary guilt in an empathetic person. The other day, I had a tickle in my nose from my allergies, not the virus, in the queue at Woolworths, and had an urgent need to sneeze, but for the first time in 55 years, I swallowed the sneeze in terror that I would be thrown out of the store or lynched by fellow shoppers.) But I digress…
There is a huge need for the gentleness of compassion in this time when people are struggling with anxiety and when many are staring financial ruin in the face. It’s tempting to respond to outbursts from other people with our own annoyance in equal measure, but trying to recognize that they are just projecting their own fears onto you, helps you keep your temper and soak up their rage.
4. Compassion isn’t a feeling, it is a conscious decision.
Compassion is love in action. Therefore, it can be learned. It’s no good knowing something or feeling sorry for someone. Compassion requires the devotee to reach out to someone to help. Don’t feel bad that someone has been retrenched; buy them groceries.
5. COMPASSION DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN necessarily FIX things.
This may seem to gainsay the previous point, but sometimes you can’t fix someone else’s problem; sometimes things are beyond fixing. But the compassionate person is the one who sits and passes the tissues as the sufferer cries her way through her grief or becomes the kitchen help when there is a death in the family and just makes the tea for all the visitors. If I think of the people who heard me vent over the years about things they had not control over, who heard me say the same angry words over and over until I had expunged the ache, I am so grateful to have been blessed to have such friends.
It may be that you have to be a firm presence and not help even when you could, in order to empower someone needing to grow. Again compassion doesn’t prevent you doing this gently. One of my teachers who had the greatest impact on me when my parents divorced and I was acting out (Mrs Paveley at Springfield Convent Junior School back in 1976) held me to account for my cheeky behaviour, but understood and acknowledged (if a little gruffly, as was her way) that I was hurting. That’s all it took. I would have walked through fire for her afterwards and I cleaned up my act very quickly. And I never forgot.
6. Some people in business think compassion is a weakness
This annoys me no end. Just as hardened business consultants will pooh pooh qualities like good communication as ‘soft skills,’ they will also see a focus on people, as distracting when it comes to making ‘those tough decisions for the good of the business.’ And that’s rubbish.
It takes great emotional strength to put your own feelings aside and cross a psychological ravine to connect with another human being.
A compassionate person might need to make decisions which affect people negatively, but they can either find people-friendly solutions or manage the situation in such a way that the person involved maintains his dignity. Richard Branson says ‘Look after your staff and they will look after your customers.
In the end compassion makes us better humans:
“There is a nobility in compassion, a beauty in empathy, a grace in forgiveness.”
These are 10 things I’ve learnt about wearing a mask for up to 10 hours a day.
1. Beware of bad breath
Invest in breath mints, especially if you are a garlic aficionado – you’re going to be far more aware of yourself and you don’t want to survive COVID-19 only to succumb to Halitosis.
On the plus side your mask will protect you from the onion odours of other people too.
2. Perfume is best kept for romantic evenings at home.
Don’t waste your time wearing perfume – it will be diluted by Eau de Sanitizer. And if you’re hoping to lure someone closer with it, he can’t smell it if he’s wearing a mask, so save it for after a vaccine is found or for a love fest at home..
For perfume enthusiasts, do not despair, Louis Vuitton is making hand sanitizer now. The bad news is: it’s not perfumed, merely an effort to re-purpose their factories to assist the French war effort against the virus. But still…
3. Lipstick sticks to your mask
Lipstick is optional, but you may need to remember the face paint for Teams meetings, or opt for ‘no video’ and claim to be saving data. Uploading a pretty picture to your profile will keep people thinking you are still at your pre-lockdown gorgeous. (This also helps if you need a cut or colour). Just a heads-up though, if you do wear lipstick, be careful it doesn’t smear the lipstick all over your face: you could end up looking like the Joker when you do switch on your video. And you have to wash it all off your mask later.
4. Focus on eyes
Eyes are the windows to the soul they say (Well, Shakespeare suggested that in both Romeo and Juliet and Richard III) so we are going to become more literate in each other’s souls when speaking, because that is all we have to look at – worth noting for the daily make-up regime too.
5. Watch out for eyebrows
Eyebrows are important for communication now. As a redhead who doesn’t have eyes without an eyebrow pencil, I am working on remembering to draw them in each day. Possibly trim the unibrow if that sort of thing bothers you; otherwise this is a grand opportunity to chuck the gender-oppression of make-up entirely.
If you’re wanting to learn a new skill, work on raising one eyebrow at a time for effect – it will help to prevent boredom during off-camera Teams meetings too. Just remember to switch off your video!
Remember people can read many things into your expressions above the mask; make sure your face is saying what you intended it communicate.
6. Masks mist up glasses
Wearing a mask that’s snug over the nose and wearing your specs over the fabric helps. But if you breathe like Darth Vader, expect to be fogged up often. And don’t believe those life hacks about shaving cream and other lens cleaners. Soap and warm water cleansing of the lenses works best, but you’ll just have to try to prevent sending out so much hot air (double entendre intended). The good news about being bespectacled though is that no one can sneeze coronaviruses into your eyes.
7. You’ll get more exercise
You’ll get in more steps in the day because inevitably you will have to dash back to collect the mask you left behind when you left for work/school.
8. Look after your ears
Make sure the mask is not too tight or we’ll all end up with ‘bakore’ by the end of this pandemic.
9. Keep your social distance
If you’re slightly deaf like me (my mother warned me about all that rock music), you may have been unconsciously reading lips for years. It’s harder to hear someone through a mask and one has to be careful of inadvertently stepping closer to catch the gist of the conversation, especially if someone has an accent). Remember to keep your social distance and own up repeatedly to not being able to hear – blame it on the mask.
10. Look after your skin
Skin allergies from washing powders or merely teh fact of having something over your face for long periods can affect your skin. I discovered to my horror, that you can still get pimples in your fifties! So, watch out for skin irritations – teenagers guard against outbreaks of acne by careful cleansing and drying of skin to prevent bacterial infections becoming acne. Perhaps bring spares to school and change mid- schoolday to prevent dirt building up.
On the plus side a mask is a good way to hide those pesky random zits.
Notwithstanding all of the above, if you want to live and save lives, consider your mask your superhero costume: Up, up… and away!
At long last we’ll be welcoming back our matrics and Grade 7s to school on Monday, after 73 days in Lockdown!
And for our Grade 12s, matric will suddenly get real!
Be prepared for increased levels of schoolwork stress in your children. That is to be expected. As each grade phases in, it is likely that certain other fears will be experienced, especially concern about contracting the virus or anxiety over little things, like: ‘Will I “pass” the screening?’ ‘How will the new systems operate?’ and ‘Could I infect someone?’ ‘Will my friends still play with me, or want to speak to me?’
‘Am I behind in my work or not grasping key concepts enough to cope with my final examinations?’ as well as thoughts such as ‘’Will I be accepted into my chosen field of study next year?’ which are usual worries at this time of year, may be uppermost in the minds of our seniors.
We are ready to deal with all sorts of trepidation in both our staff and learners as we navigate the new way of doing things. Our counsellors and School Based Support Teams are on alert, because, as a school with an ethos of looking after the body, mind and spirit of our children, we are so aware we need to nurture them emotionally through this period also. (We are also aware that you, their parents, are also anxious about sending your children back into the world. We understand because we are parents too.)
Our school is fortunate in that we can offer a hybrid form of learning whereby students who cannot return yet or whose parents want to keep them at home for a while longer, can live stream the day at home.
Even learners tuning in from home may not be immune (if you pardon the pun) to some anxiety, however. They may suffer from FOMO and parents of such children should also watch out for what psychologists are referring to as the ‘Lonely Children Effect’ which according to Maria Loades, a clinical psychologist from the University of Bath, UK, interviewed on Cape Talk today, says ‘can manifest itself for years’.
Social interaction is critical for the intellectual and social development of young people, so do factor in some additional data costs, for your youngsters at home to spend a bit more time talking to their friends. Yes, I am actually telling you to let them spend a bit more time online; you have not misread. It’s how they socialise. For example, gamers shooting things with their friends is not necessarily the worst activity for them, because if they are playing online, they are also bonding, which at this time is really important. Unless that’s all they are doing, or you need them to take out the garbage, in which case turn off the router (or just threaten to, if you are in need of some entertainment at their expense, as one does when one is an evil parent like me.)
You may think your children can’t be lonely because they have you or their siblings to spend time with, but Loades says that peer play is what is important, not only DMCing with the ‘parentals.’
The other thing that will add to their stress is the fact that once more there will be change in their lives. Remember that resistance to change is a form of grief. Our staff and children will go through all of these processes as they come to terms with the next new normal. It will be both your job and ours to help them to reach acceptance and acclimatize themselves to the new protocols. Mourners can go through 5 stages of grief, not necessarily experiencing all of these or even moving in this order:
shock and denial
And when there is organisational change, people can go through similar phases:
Identify them either to yourself or with your child and help them through the hard stages. Because, eventually, we can get used to anything. Humans are clever that way. Knowing what you are dealing with, should empower you to make the tough calls, (especially if you encounter some ‘school’refusal’ but it should help you also to love them through the shock and denial stages. Good luck with the bargaining stage if you have a wannabe lawyer or lobbyist in the house though!
We cannot wait to meet our masked warriors of the New Age of Hybrid Education and welcome them home, as well as meeting some in your homes on our live streams. If you are lucky enough to be able to work from home still, think of us in this brave new world while you lounge in your pjs. I just hope I can fit into that darling little suit I bought before lockdown…
“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.”