Look out, not in

March 16, 2020 · Print This Article

From toilet paper memes to apocalyptic language, coronavirus has gripped the world and reminded us that we’re facing two worldwide viruses: COVID-19 and fear.

With pictures of empty parking lots and empty supermarket shelves, it is clear that fear is having the greater effect. This is what fear does, it is the great motivator; it changes our behaviour inward.

Fear, if it is strong enough, shrinks our circle of concern so we end up just looking after number one. Typically, this is what happens when a danger comes with the threat of death. And it’s what happened in the 14th century pandemic called the Black Death. Italian Renaissance author Giovanni Boccaccio writing at the time from Florence, Italy, describes how social bonds broke down as “this scourge had implanted so great a terror in the hearts of men and women that brothers abandoned brothers, uncles their nephews, sisters their brothers, and fathers and mothers refused to nurse and assist their children”.[1] Of course, those were tougher times, but nonetheless, fear leads us to look in, not out.

And we don’t have to go far into the history of virus outbreaks to see how a more isolated world affects us. One study into the 2003 Sars outbreak in Toronto found, “around 30 per cent of people who were isolated…subsequently suffered from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder”.[2] Findings like this start to make me think about our elderly population.

An already isolated age group are now facing the prospect of more isolation. I was shocked when I saw a recent Cadbury’s Chocolate advert highlighting that 225,000 older people often go a whole week without speaking to anyone! Maybe we should give one of those toilet rolls we bought to an elderly person!?

As fear squeezes our boundaries of care ever smaller maybe it’s a good time to look out and not in. Maybe Franklin D. Roosevelt had a point when he said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

As this coronavirus continues to spread and infect, let’s be mindful that we are not infected by the second virus, fear. Crises like this always demand a population to think not just about themselves but each other.

This week, what can you do for an older person you know? How about reaching out to an older person you know and make sure they’re ok.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Photo by Bram. on Unsplash
[1] https://www.newstatesman.com/2020/03/coronavirus-survive-italy-wellbeing-stories-decameron
[2] Ibid
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