Looking on the bright side of lockdown - let’s build a better world

One Belfast woman is encouraging others to make a Better World Pledge. JOANNE SAVAGE reports

Friday, 30th April 2021, 4:28 pm
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Yes, the pandemic is the stuff of apocalyptic nightmare, with rising death tolls, serious damage to the economy, doom-laden rolling news and restrictions on our daily lives that many will have found unbearable. Even during the Second World War you could still decompress over several gins down the pub, get your haircut or spontaneously hug strangers.

But for all the deprivations of lockdown, the shutters pulled down on your favourite restaurant, jam-packed house parties made verboten, queues outside M&S and no hope of setting the world to rights over a double macchiato with your chum in your preferred coffee shop, there is perhaps the sense that people have begun to have renewed appreciation for increased family time and for a period of a reassessment of what really matters in life - our most valued connections with others and the pursuit of the things that bring us happiness, whether that is trying to become the next Monty Don by planting a shrubbery or rose bush in your garden, channelling Mary Berry by devoting yourself to making an exhaustive repertoire of baked goods, knitting multicoloured woollen blankets, learning Japanese, mastering Beethoven’s piano concertos or taking up dizzyingly complex Star Wars jigsaws.

Or it might be learning to actually communicate better with and the value the shared time you spend with your partner instead of binge-watching Netflix in a fug of post-work exhaustion as you exchange monosyllables over the location of the remote control.

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Maybe you finally have the time to notice the birdsong when outside, the colour of the sky or the ever-changing shape of the clouds.

More broadly, it could be that Covid, as a danger to life itself, is teaching us to think more about it’s meaning and value.

As we witness so many lives lost to this insidious virus, perhaps we gain a sharper sense of life’s preciousness and the network of connections with others that make existence worth all the toil, blood, sweat, tears and struggle it demands.

PR arts consultant Sarah Hughes, 46, from Belfast, was inspired to see lockdown as an opportunity for positive change.

For her incarceration led to taking up daily drawing of Disney and comic book cartoon characters, yoga practice and a stronger appreciation for doorstep chats or food deliveries from friends while she was sheltering due to underlying health problems. Suddenly Zoom chats with family meant more. She saw a quote online by David Hollis, a transformational life coach, that made her think: “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”

Sarah said: “Obviously lockdown was initiated to protect public health, and it has been a difficult reality, but I began to think about how it has given us time to think about our lives and the ways we might live it differently when all of this is over. It’s a time for us to really think about what is important and about the habits we have cultivated that we might want to keep. It’s presented us with an opportunity to define the new normal, and it’s allowing us to think about the kind of world we want to build from here on in.

“Politicians have been talking about ‘build back better’ and, in theory, I agree. Once we are out of lockdown we can choose how to reshape our lives. We can choose, perhaps as a society, to be less consumerist, to appreciate our personal relationships more, to maybe learn to value a greater sense of community with our neighbours and to rejoice that we no longer need to put up with the travails of the daily commute unless we want to. We can choose to spend more time with our children or decide to be less immersed in the hurly burly madness of the pre-pandemic rat race.

“This is a time to think about developing new habits, a new approach to living, and deciding what aspects of our previous lives that we maybe now see differently and want to leave behind.”

So Hughes had a brainwave. At the start of lockdown she created a Facebook page dedicated to encouraging people to ‘Make a Better World Pledge’.

Accessible to people of all ages, and entirely free, all you have to do is print off the template provided on the page, which you can download easily, and make a commitment to keep the lifestyle changes you have cultivated in lockdown that you feel will allow you to lead a richer, more colourful, more self-consciously reflective, fuller life.

“To build a better world starts with the individual. So what I did was after creating the Make a Better World Pledge Facebook page, I made and uploaded a template for people to fill out including sections on all aspects of life from gardening to family life and exercise and for people to choose the areas in their lives that they wanted to change.

“So the idea is that people can print off this template, stick it on their fridge and make their pledge to contribute to a better world by making positive changes in their lives. So at the end of the busy day you can look at that and say, I am going to spend more time in the garden, or do crafts, or call a friend, because life is so much better for my doing that and for a lot of people they would not have had the time to discover these new hobbies, routines or ways of prioritising connection without the hiatus that lockdown has occasioned. Nature has been a lifeline for so many, just having the impetus to spend time in green spaces even if that is just visiting your local park more frequently. So maybe a better world for you is getting into horticulture or walking and cycling more. But equally it could be bird-watching, painting, cooking, whatever inspires you.

“So many people have told me they are doing more reading, they are switching off from TV and social media and news outlets more, they are discovering the time to pursue new passions and interests. It’s my hope that by taking the pledge we can take these positive changes into a post-pandemic world.

“We’re in a bit of a mess so why not choose to establish a new pattern of living that allows you to give precedence to what you love?

“In the early stages of the first lockdown I was contacted by a mother whose six-year-old daughter had filled out the pledge. She wanted to start picking up rubbish outside, draw and make more, eat more healthily, use her iPad less, play outside more and play more games with her family.

“This is about letting lockdown leave us with a positive legacy, a new way of looking at things and the chance to revise and edit our lifestyles so that we can live them to the fullest.”

Sarah, who has worked remotely throughout lockdown, has found joy in her multicoloured sketches.

“I draw everyday now, usually around 15 minutes or so with online tutorials. I’ve done Bugs Bunny, Minnie Mouse, Popeye, Superman, and Brian, Stewie and Peter from Family Guy, Elsa from Frozen, characters from Sesame Street, so many. I never pursued drawing before lockdown but I find it so enjoyable and relaxing and I intend to keep going when lockdown ends.

“It also made me see how brilliant my friends are and how much they mean to me with doorstep chats and them dropping things over to me when I was shielding. Then I was doing more regular video chats with family, like with my sister who lives in the US and my brother who lives in New Zealand. We all made more of an effort to communicate.”

Emphasising personal accountability, the Better World Pledge invites participants to consider up to six areas of their lives - such as work, play, health, family, friends, shopping, politics, charity, environment, travel or community - and make one achievable post-lockdown pledge within however many categories they choose. Visit www.facebook.com/betterworldpledgeni.