During a time when the press is busy ranking crisis time heroes and putting uncrowned kings on pedestals, we should think about how to keep the whole of society in good spirits to have energy and resources left for the aftermath of the crisis, Erle Loonurm writes.
In just a few weeks, time has morphed into corona time under our very eyes. Our reckoning of time has become "before corona" and "after corona." At times, it feels like the typewriter of history is being frantically operated by a mad science-fiction writer for whom we are all guinea pigs. Unfortunately, the situation is neither science-fiction nor insanity but a new kind of real life where fear, not even the virus, is public enemy number one.
Pictures of an evening trip to the grocery store. People wearing masks, carrying baskets, buying food. Because the mask covers most of a person's face, the eyes stand out. There are calm and inquisitive eyes, while some looks are even indifferent. And then there are eyes that speak of fear. Trepidation.
It is probable that the person behind the mask is not sure whether they should be afraid of the virus, the fact that it's spreading, others who might be infected or how to cope should they catch it themselves. Or perhaps it is all of the above.
Information has become an unending flood. What to believe and what to read is one question, while the daily reality of the number of confirmed cases and deaths is another entirely. What this mortifying situation does is bring people face-to-face with themselves. And that fear is far beyond what any virus could conjure.
It is this fear that becomes a driving force for people in unexpected situations. To overcome the crisis, we need to start with fear. It is a battle where running some people down or lifting individual groups up is of no use whatsoever.
During a time when the press is busy concentrating on mistakes made by the Health Board and a minister's unfortunate utterances or crowning those on the front lines of combatting the crisis kings, most of society is left looking on, while no less deserving of the title of hero.
Looking on and working every day to ensure the best possible functioning of their company or agency by having to suddenly work remotely, being responsible for employees.
Looking on are those who are isolated at home with their children, ensuring their own health and that of their offspring. Looking on are people who have donated or bought computers so children of less fortunate families could take part in remote study.
Those who have made the difficult decision to cut their employees' salary, while having to keep them motivated. Those who have to live in the virtual certainty that they will not see a pay rise for months or years but still keep working. And those who cannot help out as volunteers after hours because their families and homes need them.
Looking on are people who are afraid. Who sit at home and only leave the house if it cannot be avoided, not being able to tell whether a cough or an unpleasant feeling in their throat is COVID-19 or not because not everyone is tested. Those who go to the grocery store wearing masks and whose eyes betray fear because they have to keep at least two meters between themselves and people they might have had a conversation with while waiting in line only yesterday.
All of them are silently looking on as the press puts uncrowned kings on pedestals, hands out gold medals just in case despite the Olympics having been postponed and works on various other rankings.
Why create new subconscious rifts in society during difficult times? People need to be commended, of course, but it should not be done at someone else's expense in a crisis.
Every member of society is either consciously or subconsciously contributing to overcoming this crisis. By moving on with their daily lives and continuing to work as smoothly as possible in this flood of coronavirus news and under altered circumstances. By sticking together and refraining from manufacturing new fear. Because the latter is the greatest enemy today.
An unexpected situation forces a person to look themselves in the eye. Society is not a long jump pit where 5 centimeters makes you better than someone else. Nor is it a marathon course where the person who crosses the finish line first only to collapse on the other side of it wins. The gray area here goes far beyond what a black and white cast of mind can possibly grasp.
In addition to fear, anger is another driving force in extreme situations. Finding oneself suddenly isolated at home forces another frank look in the mirror. That is why many now think back to the routine of going to and from work as they would their blessed childhood.
Standing orders mean that people have to get used to a new daily schedule and spending all of their time with family members. The daily routine includes new tasks, sums spent at the grocery store have changed, while the possibility of domestic violence spiking has been discussed both in the Estonian and international media. This new situation takes some getting used to both psychologically and financially.
Lack of recognition is a chronic condition of our society, as is physical and emotional violence. The solution begins with the self. Self-acceptance and taking care of oneself. While it does sound banal, simple words are often difficult to put into practice. Being the main character in your own life often requires some tenacious knots to be untangled.
Acceptance and caring can never be compensated for by anyone from the outside – neither one's colleagues, boss, partner or the government can put a patch of recognition on the void we see when we look within ourselves. It can be done by making peace with oneself that will in turn lead to taking responsibility for one's actions and words. And taking emotional responsibility as an adult helps keep fear at bay.
We are not so weak and immature as a society as to only need heroes we can celebrate and applaud, heroes we can relate to in order to maintain our identity. Heroes whose posters to stick on our walls so we could imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes. This is where we need to be ourselves. Unique and useful, acting as the heroes of our own lives. Every difficult situation, crisis or disaster can be overcome then.
However, I'm afraid this particular crisis will last far longer than we might imagine. Sailing through it, we will see crisis management and post-crisis management. Once the tsunami has passed and we're left with just stormy seas and rock-strewn beaches, the latter will be felt painfully under our bare feet for a long time still.
The thing to ponder is how to get society back on track and keep things going in the abeyance that will follow weeks of stress. Will people tired of having to reorganize their work overnight and living in the conditions of nonstop coronavirus news be able to continue at full steam? If so, then how and at what cost?
Answering this question will likely require more effort than replacing tired employees with new blood of which there should be plenty available in the wake of layoffs and bankruptcies. Until the next crisis.
What will happen if we'll see a new virus decimate the global economy again in just a few weeks next year? The current experiment where governments all over the world are trying to bring under control that which is not meant to be controlled is an interesting spectacle in itself. Unfortunately, it is also one of the more tragic ones of our time. Economically paralyzing and socially ruinous.
However, there is something gaining control over which is far easier and depends on every one of us. It is fear. The greater our responsibility – for our health, immune system, way of life and loved ones, the less power fear has and the less painful the crisis will be in the end.
The coronavirus will cause the greatest change in society that we have seen in the past decades. As ever, those capable of adjusting to change will survive. The heroes and crowned heads of our time are those who in addition to adjusting to change can also manage and mold it. This requires one to conquer one's fears and take responsibility. And that is something everyone can do.
Editor: Marcus Turovski