How is everyone doing? It’s been 4 months since Covid-19 hit Singapore, and about 6 months since the first country, China, was impacted. This is the 2nd pandemic I have personally experienced in my lifetime, besides SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003. SARS lasted six months and came as a shock to most Asian countries, who weren’t prepared for this infectious outbreak, including Singapore. We have MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome that started in 2012 that affected most Arabic countries and United States.
However, this is the first global outbreak, that the entire world is experiencing all at the same time. As I speak to friends/colleagues in Asia and out of Asia, across time zones and cultures, there is a similar sentiment, frustration, sadness and empathy with one another. A first.
For the first time, it feels like the world is united against one common enemy — the virus.
Reflecting upon a series of events, from when China had a nation-wide lockdown, to the first case outside of China in Asia, to hitting the rest of the world, including United States and Europe. It all happened so rapidly, day by day. I remember how news keep arising and how new policies/regulations are constantly being made. It was so much to take in every single day, as we hold our breath, wondering what would happen, and how our lives would be impacted.
Isn’t it interesting how it takes a common virus to experience human empathy worldwide.
It has never occurred to me that a global-wide nation lockdown is possible, that international passenger flights would be stopped (the idea of ‘no travel for everyone’), that we would all be locked in and confined within the small space of home.
As much as everyone tries their best to remain optimistic and while the government aims to remain transparent without exuding panic among the public, there is no doubt that this outbreak would last beyond six months (compared to SARS), and in fact, it could be how we would all remember of 2020.
Times like this have shed some light into how we humans behave, react and respond to unexpected crisis like this. Here, I would like to share some insights that I’ve gained:
- Nature of Human Empathy
- Importance of Planning Ahead
- Our Ability to Adapt and Survive
- Power of Technology and New Skills
- A Choice to Redesign Life 24/7
1. Nature of Human Empathy
It is intriguing how it takes a global pandemic for the world to unite as one and empathise with one another. A global pandemic that cuts across races, cultures, nationalities, ages and sexes. I remember how the world started to blame China, how the West think that Asia’s overreacting to a ‘common flu’, how nations start pin-pointing at what another nation could have done better in this situation.
We tend to view situations from an outside-in perspective, and it often seems easier than not to find faults, rather than come to a common understanding that we are one human race, fighting for survival and doing the best we can (of course, I’m aware that this is a much simplified view, that does not take into account politics, power play, government capability etc).
And perhaps it’s just how the human mind and body are engineered, till we experience something for ourselves, it’s difficult to relate or empathise.
Referencing Melinda Gates from her ‘The Moment of Lift’ book, that perhaps
Deep down, we humans do not like to see all of us as equals, that it hurts to give up our sense of superiority and say ‘I’m no better than others’
while moments of crisis remind us, again and again, of how vulnerable we human race are, it does not matter which political party we are in, which education we receive, the amount in our pocket, the house we live in, that when one loses, we all lose.
2. Importance of Planning Ahead
It’s a difficult time, it is. Companies are cutting costs, reducing manpower. Businesses are closing down. People are losing jobs and income. It took me one conversation that hit me so hard to make me realise how real this entire situation that we are in is.
My sister works in the hospitality sector. When this pandemic first hit our nation, her company requested for them to clear their paid leave then their unpaid leave, including the people who are forced to take 14 days of leave as stay-home notice from travelling. At that moment, the righteous and perhaps even idealistic side of me was surprised that companies are not protecting their employees and are making them feel unsafe/insecure about their jobs/future during this unpredictable period. I was looking optimistically for answers from friends working at Human Resources, until one of them told me:
“There’s nothing much you can do.
When companies are not doing well, they can’t pay their employees, and people are let go.
Companies are doing the best to get their employees to take paid leave and avoid retrenchment (as last resort)”
Yes, it sounds really straightforward and almost common sense at this point, but it hit me hard, making me realise that as much as welfare and culture are important (and I attribute some of these ideals and sense of entitlement from 21st Century companies, like Google/Facebook/LinkedIn, promoted as ‘people-first’), that hey this is real — when companies do not do well, they can’t pay and they lose people. Period.
This is why it is so important for companies to hold sufficient assets/cash savings to tide through unpredictable times like these, and plan ahead.
Same for employees like ourselves – how important it is to have at least 6 months of savings in the bank to sustain a living.
3. Our Ability to Adapt and Survive
On a positive note, times like this have forced many companies, especially traditional ones who never imagined a day of remote working, to change their ways of working and mindsets.
What was seemingly impossible is now ‘possible’ — working remotely for many traditional companies. All it takes is a change in mindset. If we want to, we can.
I’m fascinated by how rapid things can change if we want to, or have to. It has demonstrated the ability and speed in which we humans adapt, especially in forced circumstances, in order to ‘survive’. (I do understand that not all companies have managed to move to remote working successfully/entirely, not yet, and it may be much more difficult for certain industries)
Not just companies, it is also the behavioural move to online shopping, online grocery shopping, online food delivery (which I will talk about more in the next point).
We humans are not wired for change, we resist and detest change. Our minds tell us that it is not possible because it has not been done before. It will be too challenging and takes too much effort. When in fact, it’s just a muscle in the brain to exercise — to get out of familiarity and into the uncomfortable new space.
Many people are wondering how our lives will change after this is over. I’m not too optimistic about it because I believe people can easily fall back into ‘old habits’, but a small part of me is hopeful. Because once we take the first step out into unfamiliarity, it is a lot easier the next time. Don’t you think?
4. Power of Technology and New Skills
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if this happened before the 21st Century, before the rise of the Internet and the Apps? Before video conference calls, eCommerce and shared online documents.
Thanks to technology, we are able to stay connected here and now.
Technology has become a crucial tool and means for us to adapt to this ‘new norm’. This forced circumstance has enabled many of us to rely on technology more than ever, including online grocery shopping, online payment, online schooling, etc.
We all experienced this over the past months. Need I say more?
5. A Choice to Redesign Life 24/7
Being stuck in a confined space like everyone else, has made me realise the importance of one’s perspective and mindset. We can view this lockdown period as either:
 ‘life that stays the same, ripped off from the luxuries/enjoyment of life such as travel which we all love, and have 2020 go past monotonously’ or
 ‘we can redesign our lives and the space we are in, to make the best out of this situation’.
It’s all about the mindset. I choose to go with the 2nd, and colour my life while working within the confined space I’m in.
I now have 24 hours of my life for me to design, the way I want to, within the space I have, with little excuse of external circumstances.
With the time saved from travelling two hours back and forth from work every day, it has earned me additional time to do what I want. If I stick to my usual routine activities (before lockdown), these two hours may easily be slipped away to sleep/on social media. I didn’t want that.
I started thinking about a new routine — a routine I secretly desire but did not manage to accomplish, either due to the lack of time or social circumstance. This includes cooking (that I never get to do as I arrive home at 8pm from work due to travel or overtime), morning yoga/stretch (that I couldn’t wake up for in time for if I am to leave house at 8am for work, mostly due to the night-time social activities that cause me to sleep late), regular meditations or sunset walks.
With that, I incorporated these in my ‘new norm’ routine, knowing now I have little excuse.
I will be honest to admit it can be hard sometimes, to stay disciplined. The weather gets too hot sometimes, it gets stuffy being in a confined space, it can be hard to think, and noisy at times (with family members all at home).
My suggestion (which has worked well for me) is to find what motivates you.
For me, peer motivation works. Having the feeling of not doing this alone and being accountable to not just yourself but your peers, pushes me to get out of my bed every day, to get into those yoga/fitness outfits; Having the sense of being socially connected and bonded by same activity helps us feel better, despite being confined in our space.
What about you? What motivates & works for you?
Thank you for reading through this long post, it is longer than I expected; A burst of thoughts accumulated over the past few months. It’s not an easy period, we are being physically, mentally, emotionally, financially-challenged. I like to see this as a test of humanity, and a change for a better world.
Let’s do our best to make the most out of this and not have 2020 become a blank state, but of a new colour.