Will the lessons of Covid lead to a brave new world?

Belfast optimist Sarah Hughes is urging people to pledge to make a better world when lockdown lifts. JOANNE SAVAGE reports
Will you make positive changes post-lockdown?Will you make positive changes post-lockdown?
Will you make positive changes post-lockdown?

Unemployment has risen and routines have been shattered; children are running riot in living rooms refusing to do their arithmetic. We’ve never spent so much time in our homes. Now contact with the outside world is fraught with the new anxieties of infection; headlines announce the grim death tolls; wherever we go we are obliged to keep our distance; dating is out the window unless you can fall in love via Zoom; having friends over for dinner is out; the sacrifices made have been manifold. Things have changed, utterly.

As lockdown measures gradually ease and we emerge blinking into the daylight like convicts released from house arrest, what kind of world will we wake up to?

What lessons will Covid have taught us?

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Perhaps this is our chance to build a brave new world, one founded on the enhanced sense of community that emerged when lockdown was announced, when so much of the generosity of the human spirit was evident as people did shopping for shielding neighbours, reached out to check up on isolated relatives, volunteered at food banks, clapped for carers or served heroically, as they are still, doctors and nurses on the frontline, risking their own health in order to assist the sick, battling the insidious, invisible enemy.

The hallmark of neoliberal capitalism is 24/7 busyness, an endless loop of the over-caffeinated pursuit of profit above all.

Covid forced us to press pause. It has given us time to think about what truly matters and brought our mortality into focus. We have had time on our hands. Time to have meaningful conversations with family, time to realise that our relationships are the real source of happiness, time to reflect on our life philosophy, do jigsaws, take up the cello, scrub the oven, tend to the garden, read the classics, rediscover the weekly shop as an event of Odyssean importance, and take more pleasure in the little things - a well brewed cup of tea; the latest reality series on Netflix; working remotely while still in pyjamas.

So what if we collectively resolved that our post-pandemic society became more equal, valued people rather than profit more, carried that ‘we’re all in this together’ sentiment to the level of legislative change?

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Or what if we decided to emerge as improved versions of ourselves, more grateful for the face-to-face interactions everyday life brings, more appreciative of our health and the value of simply being?

PR and marketing consultant Sarah Hughes from Londonderry has been shielding at her home in Belfast since the end of March because of underlying health issues. Having pursued new interests during lockdown she came up with the idea of asking people to make a Better World Pledge, to make a commitment to continue the good lifestyle trends that lockdown has made possible.

The pledge is a simple way for anyone to make a visible record of the positive aspects of their lockdown experience which they would like to continue into post-lockdown life, to make a better world for themselves, their family, friends and community.

Explaining the thinking behind this uplifting and novel idea, Sarah says: “The Covid-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our home, social and working lives and we have had to adapt to this experience at incredible speed.

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“While there have been many difficult, upsetting and frustrating aspects of lockdown, we have also seen some wonderful examples of individual and community bravery, innovation, creativity and generosity.

“While I’ve been shielding, for example, my neighbour has been bringing my groceries to my door, not expecting anything in return. It made me think perhaps we can become a more caring, person-centered and empathetic society because of this.

“We’ve all been less busy and maybe you start to realise, did I need to be that busy all the time or isn’t there room for reflection too? I think as a culture we have made burnout fashionable and it needn’t be that way. We have this idea that if you aren’t achieving or producing then you must be redundant. But that is not the case.

“There has been a lot of talk about when life will ‘get back to normal’. The Better World Pledge invites people to take time during this experience to consider what parts of ‘normal’ they actually want to return to and what positive aspects of life during lockdown they might want to keep.”

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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 you are asked to make one achievable post-lockdown pledge within however many categories you choose.

What sort of things could you include in your Better World Pledge? Well, it might be that you decide to work remotely more often in order to spend more time with family; it could be about trying to commit to attaining a healthier work/life balance. Maybe you decide to continue with a new hobby that has lifted your mood, or have realised the importance of arranging family get-togethers more regularly.

Perhaps you now see the real value in staying connected to friends you had hitherto neglected amid the whirl of everyday life, want to schedule some creative time each day, decide to spend less on things you don’t actually really need, like yet another pair of designer trainers, clothes you will never actually have occasion to wear and over-priced tat that will simply gather dust and clutter cupboards.

Maybe you could commit to volunteering for a charity, walk and cycle more often, improve your cooking skills, get more involved in your community, or re-evaluate what you eat and drink.

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“Since the start of lockdown I’ve started learning to draw,” says Sarah. “Mostly Disney characters on You Tube. I got a lot of joy out of that and want to continue with it. I also started doing yoga every day. I started to evaluate the things that really matter and decided to make a pledge to continue these things and encourage friends to do the same.

“It’s all as though someone has pressed pause on the world and it’s time to rethink how we live. Before we press play again, what song do we want to sing? Do we want to sing the same song or do we need a remix?

“This is an opportunity for growth and change. You can reshape things. I’m not saying lockdown hasn’t been hard or that it’s all unicorns and roses. But I do think we can learn something from this period and maybe implement changes now that we have time to take a step back and think.

Can we address things in a different way when all this is over? What do you want to change? The pledge is meant to be a bit of encouragement to become better. But you can set yourself realistic goals. You don’t have to climb Mount Everest.”

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To take part in the Better World Pledge, you simply go to www.facebook.com/betterworldpledgeni. Some 18,000 people have visited the page so far. Download and print out the Better World Pledge A4 template which you can customise to suit your personal needs by adding the categories which are most relevant to you.

Share it on the Better World Pledge Facebook page and/or put it on your fridge at home as a daily reminder of what you want your post-lockdown life to look like: “It is up to you to decide what you want to include in your Better World Pledge and to try your best to stick to it as much as possible. Don’t worry, though - the Better World Pledge Facebook community will be there to offer support and encouragement as and when needed.”

The process is free. Download and print off the Better World Pledge template sheet from the Facebook page and share the idea with whoever you choose.

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