Six days into social distancing working/studying from home and countless articles about Isaac Newton “the model of productivity in a time of quarantine” later, I decided to avoid being peer-pressured into googling “DIY toilet paper” or reading about how The Simpsons predicted the pandemic. I have always found that learning or writing is one of the best places to evade reality.
Countries struggle to adequately convey the message that people ought to stay at home. I wonder, is there something beyond the egocentricity of those of us who cannot see beyond their own desires (the desire for a stroll, fresh air, a few friends over a drink) that justifies them for disregarding recommendations? What is it about social distancing and self-isolating that make it so hard to enforce? After all, wasn’t remote working being preached by any tech-savvy living soul just until a few days ago? And I barely even know anyone who doesn’t go “just some Netflix&Chill tonight, really” on Friday nights. So how come I still see people deviating from the direct line between their home and the supermarket?
As you wouldn’t expect any less, as a critically aware migrant with green, leftist, vegetarian tendencies (and throw in the soup whatever else you fancy) and some spare time in quarantine, these questions triggered grand thoughts about the workings of society, the entire educational system and human race that I’m only socially allowed to share on a personal blog that nobody really reads.
Social distancing, both volunteer and mandatory, is an effort that saves lives, but is non-rewarded. Let me highlight that for many this is and effort: while being expected to deliver the same quality of work they would in normal circumstances, parents need to cope with their attention-seeking children, others have to fear for their own lives, others have to live with the anxiety of their family members being distant and unwell. So despite social distancing being an effort that quite literally contributes to survival by decreasing the rate of spread, it does not come with a carrot.
In an ideal world, nobody would need recognition for saving lives. We would all be happy to be the hero/ine behind the scenes, the spider-man/woman of the situation. I genuinely believe that many of us aspire for their motivation of doing good to be impermeable to recognition. Our actions would not be motivated by the display we could make of them and the return they could yield, but by the intrinsic good that these actions generate. We would be proud of a human kind for annihilating COVID19 through self-isolation and social distancing of millions of people, together with the restless work of thousands of scientists and healthcare practitioners, without a concrete saviour’s face in the headlines to point at. The face we could point at may be the leader who acquires potential vaccinations for his own people, the philantropist who invests in the productions of new face masks… They, as individuals, may or may not be motivated by the fruits of their actions, but they can certainly reap the latter in terms of the reward that we offer: appraisal, audience, glory, sometimes votes. In this ideal world, the survival of fellow humans would be all the reward that is needed.
But if we are not to point at a single saviour’s face, then it seems that first of all we must trust in the importance of each of us in the grand scheme of society: we need to trust one another, we need to trust ourselves, too. But also, we must trust in collectivity: that what we can achieve as a group is more than we can achieve as the sum of our individual actions. The ideal world of trust is a world we can actively build–and, who knows, perhaps COVID19 will teach us this: something atemporal about the unity and interconnectedness of human kind.