Life in the time of COVID-19: learning to share
Here, am I sitting in a tin can.
Not quite far above the world but definitely apart from it. Because COVID-19 has struck and we are all encouraged to practice “social distancing”.
What a horrible, horrible, horrible phrase.
Am I scared?
Because I live alone and I fear isolation. This will get lonely, people.
And if it will get lonely for me, it will get lonely for so many elderly, vulnerable, marginalised people.
People who may never get sick, but they will suffer.
Not just because they will get lonely.
But also because the economic impact of the virus is already hitting us hard. The hospitality and transportation industries are feeling it.
Lay-offs have started.
Every country that locks down protects the population from contagion but condemns wage workers, cleaners, locum doctors, free lancers, farmers, shop owners, builders and painter decorators to idleness. To non-earning idleness. And that is scary. Even if it doesn’t last long and it all comes out in the wash, it is scary to sit there wondering how much longer and can I afford it?
And with each passing day, the pressure on the global economy is mounting.
Banks whose corporate loan book is over-indexed in some industries are looking at themselves going what do we do now? And when is “now”? How long do we need to keep this going for? And can the balance sheet take it?
The answer is we don’t know.
They don’t know.
I don’t know.
How long this lasts.
How sweeping the damage is.
To our economy. To our infrastructure. To morale.
I lose sleep over it. Of course I do. I have a business to run. These things matter. The state of the global economy is part liquidity part buoyancy. We all know that.
And I lose sleep over being all alone for weeks on end. I am human. Of course I lose sleep over that.
And it’s a toss-up which torments me more. Because I am human and that’s how it goes.
But this piece is not about me. Or the global economy.
It is about the street market vendors. The musicians and sound engineers. The people who do piece work. The people who can’t work from home. The people who will simply not make a living while this crisis lasts and we are wondering what Zoom’s traffic was like on the first Monday of the whole of London WFH?
The people who are looking at this crisis with all the same worries as us – I am lonely. I am scared that my elderly parents will get it. When will I see my parents again, now the borders seem to be closing? Each a stab in the heart and make no mistake.
But they carry all this and, on top, each day is a day that eats into their savings. A day that makes them worry about evictions. Hunger.
Starting from scratch when it is all over.
“Humans. So many good ideas. So many failed ideals.”
My beloved Jeaenette Winterson again.
And no, have no fear, you are not getting the Communist Manifesto 2.0 any more than you are getting an impassioned defense of my right to continue my borderless jet setting lifestyle. That is not how the world works. For better or worse.
This is about the simple fact that here we are. Reduced to as much equality and sameness as we can have in our varied and different circumstances. We are all scared. We are all house-bound. We are all worried.
Some for our parents. Some for ourselves. Some for our ability to put food on the table.
Scared is scared and hard is hard.
And this is hard.
And one day it will be over. I don’t know how long it will last. I don’t know how profound and lasting the damage will be.
But I know it will at some point end. And I know we won’t learn.
We won’t learn what needs to be learned.
And who are you to determine what needs knowing, I hear you ask?
Although I would warrant that we won’t learn anything, and that covers all bases.
But more specifically.
I look around me and I see core lessons being missed.
We are suffering from a global pandemic that makes a mockery of our borders and our nationalised decision-making. We are watching a virus dance rings around the sovereignty of national response units and the refusal or reluctance to learn fast from the learnings of those who were hit first. I am seeing the most compelling argument for internationalism. And I am seeing it ignored even as the drama and the lesson unfold. It is here. Larger than life. Too large to see.
The virus knows no borders. And yet we are all about ours.
And I don’t mean don’t restrict movement. Do. By all means. Stop the contagion spreading.
But when it ends and flights resume, will anyone say: and how about an international response to the next one? Shared learnings. Shared resources. Shared response times.
The virus didn’t stop at the borders.
Why do we?
And before you start tweeting something patronising about the way of the world and the supremacy of the territorial nation state, let me remind you of a few fun facts. I have an actual bona fide doctorate in this s**t so don’t even bother unless you are ready to go five rounds with me.
The territorial nation state is a “moment in time” shape of organising civil power and human society. It is not inevitable. It is not unavoidable. And despite its current predominance, it is not forever. And how do I know that? Because I’ve done the comparative analysis so you don’t have to.
Every other state structure felt like a forever, all-encompassing thing to its rulers, citizens and victims in every moment in history. And yet.
But fine. Learning to share at the government level may be above your particular appetites right now.
We are in the middle of a pandemic, who wants to imagine a new world order? (Me. As a matter of fact.)
But even as we bring it closer to home, will we? Learn to share?
Am I being radical?
Raymond Williams says, “to be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing”.
So maybe I am.
Radical. Hopeful. Scared.
And I know one of those conditions is shared. So I want to share the rest too, for the future.
Here, am I sitting in a tin can.
I am alone and I am afraid this will get really isolatedly lonely.
My parents are not in this country and I don’t know when I will see them again as flights get cancelled and borders close.
I have spoken to three friends today who told me that their savings can see them through eight weeks of no earning but no more and the PM said this is probably going to take 12 weeks. They are scared in a way that is different to mine.
I have a friend who is living with cancer. An elderly neighbour with chronic bronchitis.
They are scared of dying if they catch this thing.
We are all freaking scared.
There is nothing more levelling than that. Fear is the most baseline leveller.
And yet, what do we do?
Pick the supermarkets clean of basic goods because screw everyone else.
Hunker down and look inwards because fear is primordial and it makes us selfish.
We are sharing the bloody fear.
Realisation one: We are in this together. The danger. And the fear. In a deliciously rare moment in human history, nobody is doing this to anybody else. There are no perpetrators. No bad guys. We are all in this together. We are sharing the fear. The worry. The danger.
And I am not going to advocate you should go out there and salvage everyone from financial insecurity (although I will suggest you don’t need all that toilet roll, seriously). And since you don’t want to go big, let’s not talk about the fact that internationalism is the only answer.
Even though it is.
So let’s talk about learning to share.
Learning to share a problem first.
A problem that completely floors us because it is scary. Because inaction and isolation are the only remedy we have been offered and that is a poor poor call to arms.
A problem that could kill us literally and figuratively.
We are sharing that.
So let’s learn to actually do it.
Don’t be awkward. Open up. Offer help. Accept help. Be real. Share the experience not just the condition.
That’s all I have to say.
There is no banking message here. No metaphor.
Sure, yes, it is true that we need digital banking services more than ever because, look, we can’t go to branches, the reality is: so what, when people can’t get food or medicine because they are too frail to go out, because some idiot bought all the over-the-counter painkillers in their local boots or because societies go into lock down?
Banking is part of the story, always. But it is never the full story. And it is not the heart of this story.
Community is. Humans are.
It is time we learned to share.
And if we can’t learn to share in solving problems like this in future, across borders and petty politics, despite nationalistic nativist blinkers and small-mindedness… If we can’t learn to share resources and ideas and plans and urgency in order to stay alive, at the humanity level, because we are too scared to dream of a bigger world, then let’s at least learn to share the problem itself. Accept that we are in it together. Equalised by it. Levelled by it. In some cases defeated by it.
In all cases terrified by it.
If we all are all too set in our small-country ways to share enough in order to avoid this from happening in future, then let’s hope that we can learn to share our basic humanity while we are in this together.
It is scary.
For all of us.
So let’s share it.
Yes the fear. The fear that unites us. The humanity that we share anyway. The ‘this’ that affects us all. Let us share it. And in sharing it we may learn that sharing works. Sharing problems and acknowledging we are all in this together may dislodge something inside us all. It may prove to be habit-forming. It may stay with us when times get better. It may make us better. Despite it all. We may learn to share. Our condition. Our fear. Our hopes. Our future.
If we learn that we share the living of it anyway, when the chips are down, we may accept that sharing the dreaming of it may be radical. Maybe.
But sharing the building of the future we will share anyway is baseline common sense. And good business.
See? There was a business reference in there after all.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!
Follow Leda on Twitter @LedaGlyptis and LinkedIn.