The missing slogan: be kind

by Martin MacConnol – May 18, 2020

When issues in my home and work life mirror each other I know there is something bigger going on. That happened at the end of last week.

At home, my wife came in for some pretty sharp criticism from a friend who thought her decision to drive an hour and a half (each way) to spend the day walking with another pal was irresponsible and set a poor example to the next generation of teenage drivers.

At work, we carried out a survey asking colleagues how they’d like to split their time between office and home once we start to emerge from lockdown. We received lots more insight than we anticipated, and some of it felt very pointed: as if we were about to begin endangering people’s lives.

All in all, both scenarios made me realise one thing. Lockdown is like taking drugs: easy to start, hard to stop.

What makes it hard is that there is nothing binary now about how we defeat the disease. We can’t just stay at home because if we do more people will die of other illnesses and other Covid-19 created conditions (we should all be alarmed at the long-term implications of richer children doing more homeschooling than poorer children).

That means every activity we choose to undertake is now a judgement call. And the thing about judgement, is that mine will be different to yours. We are all unique, living with a unique set of circumstances. Just look at yourself and work through the jigsaw of your age, physical health, the health of those you share a house with, your mental health and your cash reserves.

What I choose to do to make sense of that puzzle is likely to be different to what you choose. Those differences, if allowed to turn into anger, are just the very thinnest end of a terrible wedge.

At the thick end is our national debate. I really worry that as the days and weeks go by the different judgement calls about getting out of lockdown are going to become polarised around basic political tropes such as the ‘Tories don’t care about lives’ and ‘Labour doesn’t care about the economy’. I see it already, even in the reaction to my own LinkedIn posts. And disaster lies that way. No one running a divided country ever won a war.

And here is where I think the government missed an opportunity when it unveiled its “Stay Alert” campaign last week. They forgot to say: “Be Kind”. We are going to need a lot of kindness and understanding in coming days and weeks if we are going to wean ourselves off lockdown as painlessly as possible. And if we are kind to each other as individuals we are likely to be kinder as a society, even when we debate our differences.

It’s going to be important for friends not to judge others based on their own circumstances. As an employer I know it’s going to be vital to be tolerant of colleagues’ views which may not chime with what I think is right. And similarly, for employees it would be good to give bosses the benefit of the doubt as they balance how to protect lives and livelihoods.

So, let’s try a bit of kindness, let’s try to be tolerant. I’d say the line about ‘walking a mile in another person’s shoes’, but I don’t want to get in trouble with those that think I should just be staying at home…

Published May 18, 2020

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