There are viral aspects of the COVID-19 that go far beyond the physical illness and risk of death. It is being felt in what might seem to be completely unconnected and unrelated environments. It is being felt economically, culturally, environmentally and socially. It is affecting relationships, income, wellbeing, work and home pressures far beyond its physical presence in a community. I see the fear in my family, and I have already experienced many thousands of dollars’ worth of work cancelled or put on hold indefinitely.
This is what viruses do. They spread across networks, at a pace and in directions we find hard to keep track of. And this in turn leads to fear.
We fear what we cannot control. We fear what is uncertain. Fear has been a driving force for survival deep in our primal make up and our physiology throughout our evolution as a species.
Mastering fear is something as critical today as in any time in our history.
The difference is that today we have a greater set of tools than ever before to master fear. We can utilise science and technology, and couple it with a greater understanding and behaviours as socially aware and conscious human beings. We can be pragmatic and empathic in equal measures, but it can seem that the latter is trickier to master.
What is the opportunity that COVID-19 offers for us to live more harmoniously, more sustainably and more mindfully?
For a start some of the sensible measures being outlined are things that we should be doing anyway, regardless of the threat of contracting the virus.
- When I hear leaders in businesses telling their staff to stay at home if they feel at all unwell, or staying away even if they feel like they are coming down with something, is that not a good practice all the time?
- When it comes to having a sensible amount of food and resources to be self- sufficient in our homes, is that not a good practice all the time?
- When it comes to eating well and taking measures to boost our immune systems, is that not a good practice all the time?
- When it comes to offering leadership that allows people to make choices about things such as travelling for work if they feel unsafe, and questioning how often we need to travel for work, is that not a good practice all the time?
- When it comes to taking greater care with hygiene in public places and moving around our connected globalised world, is that not a good practice all the time?
In a crisis, or under threat, we’d like to think that we would always rise to the occasion and do the right thing by others. But in reality, do we know whether we will stand up, or run, attack or blame?
Dealing with fear and responding to it, when the impacts are so very uncertain, is more about simple practical steps than heroic gestures. It is about offering generosity and empathy however the fear, the response or reactions are occurring.
I am saddened by the panicked reactions I see, as it seems a great deal of fear is lying just under the surface for many people. And tragically there are some rather crazy memes flying through social and news media that fuel the fear.
How can we enable people to deal with fear in such uncertain times?
Again it is about simple practical actions, taking care of others.
Sure this has to be done mindfully, and hugs and kisses may be rather off limits.
But we can be caring of others in times of fear in little ways, random unsolicited acts of kindness, making and sharing food, offering to do chores for others… it is the simple day to day things.
Caring in Te Ao Māori is enshrined within the concept of manaakitanga, a broad and deep way of caring, connecting, welcoming, and including.
There are many ‘little ways’ within manaakitanga that enable wellness and belonging.
Communication that connects in a ‘little way’ taking time can be simply to ask how others are, and to simply listen, without judgement and without trying to solve their issues. It can be small home made gifts, cooking, carrying out simple chores for others.
- When we see or hear someone exhibiting fear, we can practice empathy through accepting who they are, and not try and talk them out of their fear or tell them that they are wrong to be fearful. Empathy is about listening more and talking less.
- Fear can be very abstract about what ‘might’ happen in the future. We can support fearful people in fear by putting our energies into the present moment, and focusing our activity and thoughts on the present moment, rather than speculating about what might or might not be around the corner.
- We can support people to take actions to build immunity in mind and body, through diet and supplements, taking time to relax, walk in nature, practicing calming breathing and mindfulness techniques. Check: artofliving.org.nz and www.mindfulnessauckland.co.nz
The practical measures outlined above are things that good leaders will already be carrying out. And here I must name check Mark Templeton, CEO of Aeroqual. It was a rich and caring conversation with Mark and my colleague Peter Roband that sowed the seed for this article, and in fact the title came from Mark.
What I took from those two wonderful men was that our mindsets as well as our skillsets are so important to take care of in tough times. It is very easy to default to making a self-fulfilling prophecy out of the impacts, and talk ourselves into a crisis or a drama even when we do not need to.
The best leadership right now is that which offers a way forward with compassion and empathy; building our immunity, our resilience, our courage and sustaining our wellbeing.
And for those who must always have the bottom line in sight from a quantitative point of view, people who are well in mind and heart as well as body create better results. It is a ‘no brainer’ and a ‘yes hearter’.
As the Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote in Love in the Time of Cholera, “ Think of love not as the means to anything, but the alpha and omega. An end in itself.”