How can community help in a global crisis in which we’re being asked to isolate ourselves from one another?
Humans are social creatures, and the thought of 14 days of isolation to stall the coronavirus global crisis is sending some of us a little stir crazy. So how do we come together when we’re being told to stay apart?
It can be disheartening to witness people acting in their own bonkers self-interest during these strange times. From hoarding groceries to overusing tests, there are plenty of examples of humans on their worst behaviour.
But consider that people react to crises in line with their own sense of trust in the world. And people who are disconnected from their neighbours, their food systems and their wider community are naturally feeling low levels of trust right now. And thus panic is ensuing.
Contrast this with the feelings you may have if you are connected to your community. Be they family, neighbours, your local urban farmer or wholefoods co-operative.
Having confidence there is someone who has your back is reassuring in times like these. And makes it far less likely you’ll feel the need to raid a local supermarket for tinned tomatoes.
According to psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, in On Kindness , the root of the word kindness is the old English term for “kin”. Meaning that an act of kindness is an act of fellowship, affinity and understanding with our fellow humans.
However, Phillips and co-author Barbara Taylor warn that “kindness comes naturally to [humans], but so too do cruelty and aggression”. In a crisis like this, in which cooperation is essential, it is imperative that those of us with our kinship cup full spread kindness.
Here’s hoping that kindness is as contagious as coronavirus. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Get connected locally with your food and essentials
The Caravan Stock Exchange in Melbourne’s north is a new urban roadside stall for locals to trade homegrown goods.
Greta Gillies set the stall up in her driveway and it offers locally grown vegetables, handmade crafts, soaps and preserves. The Stock Exchange is a great model for spontaneous grassroots community resilience.
You may not have your own driveway caravan to stock your neighbourhood out of, but perhaps you can make a pop-up honesty stall at your front gate?
The beauty of an honesty system is that it requires no human interaction, but will still boost your sense of being part of a supportive and resilient community.
And it doesn’t have to involve money. Giveaway tubs of essentials are popping up across the suburbs on front gates and nature strips.
While there may be the possibility that grocery-hoarders will take advantage, these offerings have another important social function. Beyond providing necessities they also provide hope that human kindness is alive and well.
Thinking long-term, there are many other ways to get your community in control of food accessibility. Join or organise a local veggie swap, seed library, permaculture backyard blitz or food-cooperative. Start working out how you can create or support local food businesses once this crisis is averted.
Reach out and (don’t) touch somebody
The advent of coronavirus is a worry for many vulnerable groups in our society. Firstly it is more likely to critically affect the elderly or infirm. And secondly, the social effects of the virus will further impact those who already suffer from loneliness and social isolation.
Compounding these issues is the difficulty in physically assisting vulnerable neighbours due to fear of contagion. So what to do?
Well, if you’re well, join the #ViralKindness movement! Becky Wass from Cornwall in the UK has designed these wonderful printable flyers that can help you gently reach out to vulnerable neighbours. But a handwritten note in the letterbox is just as nice.
Garden in public
While people may be avoiding close interactions as the COVID-19 crisis escalates, speaking from a few metres away in the open air is fine. Gardening in your front yard or nature strip is a great way to offer a kindly presence in your community without getting too close. For your own, or others’ comfort!
Gardening in public excites conversations with your neighbours like nothing else. Whether it be compliments or gardening tips, many people see a rambling veggie garden as an invitation to connect. A yarn over the front fence is the perfect way to keep your distance while keeping yourself open to others.
Keep your pecker up
These are strange times we’re living through. Rather than letting fear and panic take over your mood, try to find the humour in this situation. For tips on keeping your cool in a crisis see our recent post on coping with eco-anxiety.
Your mood has a huge impact on your wellbeing. So if you want to spread kindness in the world you’re going to have to do it with a smile.