Damage

How much damage is being caused through the ongoing denial of basic human needs – social interaction and touch?

Let alone the impact this denial is having on an individual’s immune system and mental health.

How much damage is being caused through a perpetuation of fear?

Let alone the impact this fear is having on the collective immune system and neuroses.

There may not be definitive answers to these questions. But are these questions even being asked? (Six months down the line…)

Are the real metrics of health being manifested, supported and encouraged by public policy?

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We’ve spent the whole of 2020 in an almost perfect control to the mayhem in the outside world. No, not Sweden, but remarkably a really small pocket in the Middle East.

While the country has soared to the dizzy heights of the top of ‘the table’, this unintentional control group has not succumbed to a single case from those living and working within it.

And here’s what has been happening (and arguably why everyone remains wholly healthy)…

Let’s set the scene a little first: we live on a sizeable school campus, a large proportion of the staff live and work onsite, not all though – some live outside, but locally. At least 150 staff all told, almost all ‘expatriates’.

Very early on when Europe first escalated into relative degrees of meltdown, the country went into quite a calm lockdown – in what seemed a remarkably proactive, if somewhat knee-jerk reaction; there were just a handful of cases at the time.

Everything from beaches were closed down, nothing bar essentials was available from the supermarket (you couldn’t get to the stationary department to purchase a pen for example. Arguably an essential, but rules were rules.)

You get the picture – it seemed over the top, but as if they were serious about curbing the crisis in the country. Not a bad thing, it’s just a tremendous shame it failed inexorably.

Meantime on campus…the school closed to students, lessons went online yet we, the inhabitants, were ‘allowed’ to freely roam; run, walk, cycle… The pool and the gym closed for what turned out to be the world’s longest ineffectual lockdown, but soon enough they re-opened and time slots were allocated to small pods of people to use the facilities if they wished. Everyone wished; not least as temperatures were soaring…

People respectfully (anxiously?!) kept a polite distance initially, those in couples kept to themselves, single inhabitants very organically formed small groups with whom to exercise. Group activities ceased, but kids carried on playing…

But here’s what really happened:

  • People freely exercised, no face masks, just the good old-fashioned fresh air to inhale…
  • Everyone seemed to be out walking!
  • People were able to ‘socialise’ to do so – a lifeline for many of the staff living alone…
  • People stopped and interacted on their walks – exchanging stories, and even laughing – heaven forbid! – and sharing snapshots of fun…
  • People just trusted each other again…
  • People started doing things for other people – running errands, giving lifts, sharing resources…
  • Those who didn’t travel ‘home’ but stayed to see through the hot hot months in situ, well, they ‘mucked in’…
  • A free swim slot available? It got offered around…
  • Community activities were organised – a weekly zoom quiz; yoga classes, a pitch and putt competition…
  • The community came together with yet more events – Bake Off! – this time to raise funds for a campus-based good cause; people contributed, people cooked in their kitchens and people consumed each other’s baked goods.

If it sounds rose-tinted, it wasn’t perfect! The Hills Are Alive was not playing over the speaker system instead of the Call To Prayer… And we weren’t allowed to have outside visitors.

But these are the real ramifications of the above:

In the initial global uncertainty, people were soothed by the relative normality of the situation. By the routine and predictability of the day, from the fresh air, by being outside, by connecting to others.

By connecting to others. By being neighbourly, and generous. Engaging each other in caring conversation; caring about each other. To contributing to the community spirit and by contributing to a good cause…something outside of the realms of ‘it’s all about me’.

To being ‘free’ to exercise, to not be fearful of being ‘caught’ doing something so good for you…

These are all huge indicators for health. To support the immune system of the individual.

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But even more so, to support the immune system of the collective.

No one got sick. And certainly not everyone was in peak physical fitness at the outset, that’s for sure.

Not a single person became sick.

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And then an even more noteworthy (but equally disappointing) thing happened. As the school prepared to for the start of term, ‘them at the top’ chose to change the rules.

They chose not to look at the model of what they had inadvertently created – a really sound, working community with its perfect health profile – and say, ‘do you know what? We seem to be on to a good thing here. It’s not broken, so let’s not fix it.’

Instead they asked people to start wearing masks while they were roaming. They ripped through the fabric of that community immunity…

And what happened?

People got nervous – you could tell. People kept a little bit more distant, slightly more wary. People became a bit twitchy too, when they weren’t wearing their mask – what might someone else say? Are we ‘breaking the rules’?!

Are you a wearer or are you not a wearer? What’s the right thing to do here – conform or stand up to the unequivocal lunacy of walking from A to B, not seeing a soul and being expected to breathe in your own waste materials…? Is my job at stake if I choose my real health over tolling the party line?

This is what it comes down to…

What was, for months on end, a space of mutually supportive community yet still functioning within the confines of respecting both personal space and the health issues affecting the outside world, neighbours who could still read each other’s facial expressions and share in their togetherness, became a case of ‘us against them’.

The separateness that the mask induces. The subtle ‘I must now be wary of you; there’s a threat at large, and you might be a perpetrator’ war mentality introduced into further separate and segregate people…

Not least to mention the ‘us against them’ – they that ‘impose’ the rules…

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But here’s the underlying question, why is public policy not paying attention not the fundamental conditions which create, and are required for health and for a strong immune system?

Why is public policy not being made on ameliorating baseline health parameters?

Why is this case study not being hailed as a model to applaud and replicate?

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Why is the separateness in which modernity is modelled, in which ‘us’, ‘me’ and ‘I’ come above all else in importance; save ‘me!’ – above nature, the animals, the earth itself, why is this model still being seen as the ‘cure’ to the ail which founded it…?

Are we so entrenched in a story that this works, that no-one can actually see above their mask and beyond it towards creating something else?

Notwithstanding that there has been a novel disease (which has turned out to be of flu-esque proportions), maybe we need to start seeing the damage being done to society in perpetuating the constructs of ‘separate is best’…