Individualism is over. It’s the collective that will get us through this moment. Every morning for the past few days, I’ve woken up far too early, reaching for my phone to digest the latest swathes of information. I’m sure plenty of you are the same, worried about what fresh distress awaits us as dawn breaks. The petty frustrations and false priorities that permeate our daily lives are now to be left aside, and a greater meaning snaps into focus.
Ireland is better equipped to deal with this moment than many other places. We are an empathic nation that cares, even though sometimes the shortcomings of how our society has been designed doesn’t feel like that. But we know it deep down, the sense that we are all here for each other.
The emergence of grassroots community actions to help the elderly and vulnerable in our villages, towns and cities has already started. We owe it to our healthcare workers and those more vulnerable to the virus than others, to let go of individualism and ego and chart a course of kindness through these troubled waters.
The arrogance, cognitive dissonance and irresponsibility shown by the American and UK governments is distressing. We can only hope that the damage to people in their societies is somehow minimised. This is a moment where perceived vulnerabilities may offer a certain kind of strength. Any country that has dealt with epidemics and unusual public health crises in the past or on a rolling basis is now far better prepared to deal with this public health crisis, than countries that are arrogant enough to think of themselves as “strong” or impervious to weakness. Science, not posturing, is now prioritised.
Our recession era and the emergence from it was a boom more important than money could ever be. It was an empathy boom
The emerging trend of very wealthy people using their resources to help others in various jurisdictions, demonstrates that there is always enough money to go around, it’s just not shared properly. A socialism of the heart is an empathic socialism, and perhaps this era will allow our societies to reconfigure away from the toxic late-stage capitalism that imposes inequitable hierarchies in societies.
All traumatic situations come with gifts among the difficulties they present, even if they can be sometimes hard to see amid the noise and fear. The John Grant song, Glacier, comes to mind: “This pain, it is a glacier moving through you, carving out deep valleys and creating spectacular landscapes, and nourishing the ground with precious minerals and other stuff. So don’t you become paralysed with fear when things seem particularly rough.” There will be a before Covid-19 and an after Covid-19. BC and AC. But during it, personal responsibility and a collective effort is so, so crucial. We all know what we need to do, and slowing the spread is every person’s work.
Power of art
Irish current affairs news programmes have largely been responsible. This is a moment to be grateful for Ireland having a healthy shared media. What’s also interesting is how the heightened polarisation and contact-sport-debate radio format has dissipated. It’s important that clarity, reason and expertise is kept at the heart of that, while challenging people calmly and fairly where necessary.
The emotional toll is going to be intense, and collective mental health can be bolstered by turning to the therapeutic power of art. It’s a good time to pick up a book, listen to music, and appreciate the power of human creativity and resilience.
There is something strangely useful about Ireland not having a “proper” government right now. While the power and responsibility vacuum was initially worrying, what we do know is that given this unusual situation, our political leaders are acting out of social responsibility and prioritising public health, not jostling for political gain. There is no official “opposition” as yet, and so we are not hearing politicians arguing or trying to score points. This is all really useful. It’s the difference between the maxim “we are where we are” and the idea that we’re in the exact moment we need to be in right now.
People in Ireland have for a long time now been emphasising the importance of public services, public housing, and a decent public health service. We just had an election result reflect those very desires. And look, we know those things are not in the best shape they could be, but what is in excellent shape is our sense of community and our collective emotional openness and resilience.
Let’s be thankful that in the run up to this moment, Ireland had a conditioning period rooted in community spirit, grassroots work, solidarity, love, care, kindness, charity, conversations, respect, and neighbourliness. We listened to the unheard, we broke the forced silences, we paid attention to the vulnerable and the marginalised, and elevated their needs. Our recession era and the emergence from it was a boom more important than money could ever be. It was an empathy boom. We dispensed with individualism and realised that our strength was in our togetherness, and that the power of the collective would bring us through tough times. We never knew what we were going to need that for. Now we do.