With the advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we are witnessing extreme versions of people. Some people take Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice to “Be Kind” to heart. We see examples of people choosing to be the best version of themselves and acting with generosity and kindness. Then there are the other people who unleash a nastiness and vitriol that we only saw hints of in past interactions. The ongoing conversation has become, do difficult times reveal the actual predisposition of a person or does it reveal of lack of coping skills?
Since the beginning of civilization, there are examples of people who seek out those opportunities to dominate others. The motivations have ranged from selfishness, jealousy, insecurity, entitlement, sadism or fear of losing power. We have historical relics such as the pyramids, the Great Wall of China, concentration camps and the documentation of slavery, as glaring examples of this. With COVID-19, there are increased reports of family breakdown, abuse, separation, divorce, racism, and volatility in the community. Last week, a Kitsilano resident assumed the responsibility for aggressively questioning people on the beach, where they were from and ordering them home to their own neighbourhood. There is no shortage of examples of outrageous, opportunistic, and perhaps Machiavellian behaviour to warrant responses of anger, depression and dismay.
Yet, the friendliness and kindness is palpable on a daily basis. There are so many examples of generosity and kindness in person and online that have the capacity to fill our heart with gratitude. The smiles, the friendly conversation, inspirational stories, and the commiserating over lines at stores are daily occurrences. The 7 o’clock salute to thank health care workers has expanded from pots and pans to include percussion instruments, car and boat horns, sirens, and in some cases full bands. In their lives, did these people receive good character education with an emphasis on moral justice, integrity, and kindness from friends, families, or teachers?
In my heart of heart, I don’t believe in truly bad people who go out into the world with a mission to make other people miserable. And yes, good people have bad days. However, all of us are called on to make choices and are responsible for those choices. The COVID-19 global pandemic will be one of those times when the measuring stick comes out to judge where we were as a civilization in 2020. History will hold out the examples of the human capacity for greatness, or like Margaret Wheatley points out, the very clear indicators of the fall of yet another civilization. We will be held responsible for how we raised up the voices of those in need of help and encouragement, and how we responded on a societal or individual level.
We are social animals. A range of cultural and social institutions, as well as businesses have been organized around this premise. COVID 19 strikes. The World Health Organization responds with 5 basic rules for us to follow.
The first two imperatives are under our direct control on a regular basis and have been implemented to varying degrees over the course of the last several years. Kids in public school are familiar with repetitive reminders to wash their hands and the mantra – “Cough into your elbow, away from people”. The success in NOT touching the face depends largely on how successful people have been in conquering the habit of nose picking. Unfortunately the adult nose picker driving a car demonstrates this is an ingrained habit in as many adults as children. To obliterate this habit could be the one upside of the global pandemic.
People have clearly taken the recommendation to stay home if they are sick. I have heard a few sneezes but none of the coughing that is usually quite apparent at this time of year. The last time I heard someone coughing in a public place was at a yoga class before Prime Minister Trudeau appeared on television and the level of concern and vigilance increased exponentially. The obviously sick person had a big box of kleenex on her mat and evoked a fair amount of angst in the group. I’m not certain if she returned to class while sick but it was enough to have me to take an extended break from yoga class and for the studio to close their doors within days. I have heard the occasional sneeze escape in a grocery store or outdoors, followed by a plethora of apologies or explanations of allergies. Sick people are self isolating due to the directive or reaction of the general public.
Maintaining a distance of at least one metre between people is the most challenging of the directives to implement. Even though many people are trying, habit is again the culprit. The hand goes out to shake. The hug to say thanks. The high five to recognize. Fortunately Star Trek has given us the “Vulcan handshake” along with the very appropriate “live long and prosper tagline. For long time trekkies, it also is guaranteed to evoke a smile. Better to avoid the physical proximity of the elbow or toe tap.
The direction to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has met with good timing with the two week Spring break in British Columbia. Yet, the wild card has been the Vancouver sunshine. As every Vancouverite understands, sunshine screams, “Get outdoors now”. Life in a temperate rainforest has taught us that rain is often just around the corner. A pause in quickly getting outside to relish the sun is perceived as a lost opportunity. Certainly by me. What better place to socially distance than to be in the great outdoors? This is the case in many places. NOT in city parks of Italy or Lower Mainland of Vancouver where scenic parks are magnets for people to convene.
Living in Kitsilano, the most beautiful and accessible places to head are the beaches, parks, bike/ walking routes west from Kits Beach to Spanish Banks and east around Granville Island and the Stanley Park seawall. As the week of stay at home lockdown has been self inflicted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all these scenic places and routes have become much busier and hundreds of people are congregating to have a coffee, chat and watch the children play at the beach and in the parks. Apparently this is also the case at Rocky Point Park in Port Moody and the White Rock boardwalk.
There are some valiant efforts to establish the recommended 1 -2 metre distance between people. Many people have jumped on their bikes to do this. In too many cases they are too difficult for some to sustain or not taken seriously. Certainly that has been the case on the playgrounds. Yesterday there were some new signs reminding people to maintain a 1-2 metre distance at Kits Beach but the sheer quantity of people made that difficult in high traffic areas. My husband wanted to go for a walk, rather than a bike ride and we were unable to maintain the recommended barrier when passing people at Kits Beach or along the Granville Island walking route. What healthy people do not understand in their risk as carriers. Clearly on the beach and in the parks, there are also some people who believe their own physical health will protect them. They don’t understand their role in exponential numbers of other people getting sick and the implications of the stress on the elderly, the vulnerable, medical system and the economy until we emerge out of flu season.
It does seem that we need to exercise our own judgement about how to monitor the physical proximity of ourselves to others. I feel grateful to have my husband in stay at home lockdown. Yes, partially for the chores around the house I’ve wanted to get done for some time, but mostly because we have fun being together. We still want to get daily exercise outdoors, however we will be more discerning about how, when and where to do that. We will choose less busy places to walk and ride. My pivot has been to bike the Arbutus Greenway, continuing along through the quiet Kerrisdale neighbourhood bike route to UBC, and staying on the road in the busiest sections of Spanish Banks.
If we are not making good decisions to avoid contact during a pandemic, then we are inviting government to make those decisions for us in order to protect the population. Then again, the inevitable Vancouver rain seems poised to grace us and it will assume the responsibility for enforcing social distancing as more people are more inclined to stay inside. Then those of us who love the smell of rain will be free to venture to the beach routes for our daily exercise without risk of close contact with others. In the meantime, #DoThe5 and stay healthy. Books, Netflix and binge watching all beckon.
Afternoon Update March 22, 2020 – Metro Vancouver cities have closed outdoor sports areas. Parking lots for popular beaches and parks have been closed. Prime Minister Trudeau adopts language indicative of further measures to ensure people people are practicing emergency distancing.