Covid, conflict and conversations:reflections on lockdown one year on
As we approach the anniversary of the UK’s lockdown, it seems very poignant that the explosive Meghan and Harry interview has caused such debate and division in the public discourse. There is a real sense of deja-vu when I scroll through social media platforms and see the strong opinions expressed. For some it is an example of ‘woke culture’ getting out of control, whilst for others it is yet another example of how deep-seated the scourge of institutional racism and unconscious bias are.
Recent events have thus rekindled the emotive discussion around the issue of racism, which became a hot topic following a number of high-profile murders in the USA, the subsequent global protests and the reaction to this, from the world of politics through to elite and grassroots sports. These issues are in some respects complex and nuanced. It feels as though the underlying message - about what we can do to learn from past failures and move on collectively as a society towards a better future - is being lost as people with differing viewpoints adopt increasingly polarised and entrenched positions.
On a seemingly unrelated note, as a health care professional, my other main reflection is how little debate there is about the well-being of health and social care workers at this time, a year on from a time when the same health care workers were on the cusp of acquiring near superhero status. This was symbolised most powerfully by the weekly ‘clap for carers’.
Morale amongst this group is fragile after an extraordinarily difficult year and whilst I know that this is not universally true, there is a sense that many people have ‘moved on’ at a time when many colleagues are metaphorically on their knees.
A possible common thread then is that it seems that a sense of apathy has kicked in and with it an inability to empathise and show kindness to each other at a time of great challenge and vulnerability.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced us to slow down, pay attention to and form an opinion on contentious issues and to make an active decision to pay attention to or reject the burdens of others.
As we pass the anniversary of a unique year in our lives, my hope is that there will be the opportunity to have discussions about important issues, which are painful but necessary, in a more harmonious fashion and with humility, whichever side of the debate we appear to be on. The goal has to be to help society to learn not to score points.
Many people crave a sense of normality returning to lives, but I for one hope for a different and more productive way in which we relate to each other, particularly when opposing views collide. There are many aspects of 2020 we were glad to see the back of, but perhaps one thing we could do with repeating (or at the very least reflecting on) was the theme of last year’s Mental Health Awareness Week: kindness.
Dr Chi-Chi Obuaya is a Consultant Psychiatrist working in the NHS and in independent practice, as well as a Mind & Soul Foundation Director