If humans survive the next 50 years, the history books of then will surely focus on 2020, in the way (White British) history books now focus on 1066, 1348, 1666, 1918, 1945 or 1968.
Back in Spring, the honeymoon of lockdown, it was awful and hopeful. Blue skies without pollution. Birdsong our sound track. Such sunshine and warmth. Clapping for key workers. Black and brown and refugee key workers. Zero-hour contract key workers. The pandemic: devastation and hope. We talked of the ‘new normal’. We talked of coming together to make a better world, that valued care home staff and delivery drivers over wealth extractors and rentiers. A world that valued nature and recognised ourselves as a part of nature.
We talked of all being in it together.
We talked about all human life being equal in dignity and value. There was despair as well as hope, we mourned too many deaths, we felt the pain of the shielded. But, we talked of this pandemic as a pivot point. Suddenly we could house the homeless, and the Government found the money to pay those laid off work. It felt like we were edging towards making sense of the mess we are in. I believed we were moving towards a future where the history books wrote of 2020 as The Great Turning Point.
Joanna Macy in the book Active Hope wrote about Three Stories for our time. That was back in 2012, so she wasn’t writing about this pandemic, and yet maybe she was predicting something like this time was coming. Macy is mainly known for her environmental activism. Perhaps the connection with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the pandemic of structural racism (that has been round a lot longer than the coronavirus and yet that has suddenly been thrust to the centre stage as activists say enough is, finally, enough) is not obvious. Yet these Three Stories can help us to understand these issues and other social injustices are interrelated, the social injustice that is at the heart of so much trauma in our society.
The First Story is Business as Usual, it’ll be OK, we will go back to normal, what we need to do is get the economy going again, and all will be well. Capitalism will save us, as long as we all get back to buying processed lunches, playing golf and going to the pub. In late Spring, for sure, the Government was peddling Business as Usual, but it felt like the population weren’t buying it anymore, they had tasted the fresh clear air of hope. The Second Story, the Great Unravelling, focuses on the disasters Business as Usual has brought. Climate change and inequality, the pandemic itself, structural racism, refugee crises, a crisis of mental wellbeing and the despair and paralysis of the trauma that all these bring. The Third Story is The Great Turning Point, the moment we notice the unsustainability of the other two stories and choose life. Choose life for the planet and for our race, the human race. At this moment, we recognise that racism and inequality hurt all human beings, recognising that damaging the environment is damaging our home and it isn’t about individual actions but is about systemic change. It’s the moment we recognise that caring jobs are low carbon jobs, that we see that greater equality could mean a three-day working week and a Universal Basic Income, genuinely honouring the value of each human life.
Summer came. And still Lockdown rolled on. My own wellbeing shaken by lack of human contact, I craved hugs. I watched my mood nosedive and my self-critic soared with new found power. Optimism crumpled. A stormy wet summer. Politics polarised. Newspapers and social media directed our attention at the handful of asylum seekers crossing the channel and away from the damage of scrabbling for Business as Usual. I watched with horror as hatred grew online, as othering grew. I did what I could to challenge hate, felt I was losing the battle. Ennui settled. We stopped clapping key workers. We started blaming the poor for being poor. We blamed the victims. Conspiracy theories blossomed. The racists rose. The world felt a lot less kind. It felt like my compatriots had forgotten to ask “what has happened to you?” of our fellows who are suffering and instead were labelling everyone else besides people like themselves with: “what’s wrong with you”. We had stopped seeing the system as at fault and started blaming each other, and especially blaming the victims.
End of August, heavy rain, loss of hope, ennui. Late Summeritis. Like every Late Summeritis before, the low mood that Summer is going away too fast and I haven’t cycled enough, swam in open water enough. This late Summer, with the impending doom of The Great Unravelling, despair blossomed.
And then … a freshening breeze, a beautiful sunset. A remembrance that Autumn is beautiful. A weekend of canoeing and swimming in lakes. Getting both sunburnt and frozen to the core. The world revolves towards the balance point. Could Late Summeristis give way to embracing the Autumn Equinox?
Macy said all Three Stories co-exist and what matters is which one we give energy to. I can choose. Oh yes, I have privilege to choose, but it is more than that. Each of us can give our energy to talking about any one of the Three Stories. Attention changes everything. What we focus on grows.
I choose to invest in the Great Turning Point after all.
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Macy, Joanna and Johnstone, Chris (2012) Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy