Image: sculpture at the Singapore Art Museum
Son: “Pappa, what do you worry about the most, when you think of the virus?”
Pappa: “The potential for civil violence I think”
Son: “That sounds a little freaky?”
Pappa: “I know, it may sound pessimistic, scary or freaky even, however now’s the time to ensure we speak openly and discuss the safety and cohesion of our society. As well as being as sensible, resilient, cooperative and disciplined as we can, we must also be mindful and clever in a time like this. I am not saying it will happen, no one knows what will happen for sure… so there you go, you asked what I was most worried about, that’s my answer.
Son: Why are you worried about that so much?
Pappa: “You could argue that I have been fortunate enough to help others in difficult situations. This has led to a certain type of knowledge and a standpoint based on a great deal of experience working in post conflict areas, war zones, emergency situations, situations which elicit trauma for those involved and the generations that follow them… Whether as part of the British military, the Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service, NGOs in Indonesia or the United Nations in Iraq, you know, I have worked hard to support people struggling to survive and live a positive life. All those people were just like you and I, all of them!
Therefore, I worry when the full effect of the four stages (Containment, Delay, Research and Mitigate) employed in addressing this virus are understood and felt, people will feel hard-done-by, neglected, misunderstood and vulnerable. Fear might set in and leadership may struggle to maintain a position of trust, validity and value. In a society built on consumerism it’s not hard to imagine financial struggles where the most vulnerable will suffer most. As it has in other countries where a catastrophe (natural or otherwise) has hit, took hold and created social upheaval.
It's important to realise that there are three main sources of conflict: economic, value and power. Either individually or combined, our past has proven that these are the three key drivers.
Economic conflict involves the violent means of attaining scarce resources such as food, money, fuel and medicine. A value conflict involves the incompatibility in ways of life such as class difference, elitism, faith or political conditions. A power conflict begins if there is a struggle to maintain governance, this can start between individuals, groups or communities trying to assert control over the other. (Three conditions well documented by Katz, Fink, Mack & Snyder ……. Many more)
There are others though, ineffective communication (i.e.. miscommunication or misunderstanding) and one source that lurks in the shadows and that is an escalation of lesser fallouts or social disagreements.
The escalation of pockets of friction and disagreement are difficult to manage and they feed on fear and defensiveness.
There is so much more involved in conflict and violence such as scale, resources and leadership, likewise, there is a whole science behind peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building. However, the best remedy is not to allow the situation to get violent in the first place. One way start safeguarding the situation is to promote a mindset that will soften any intolerance and lessen the chance of friction.
Son: “So we should be more tolerant then?”
Pappa: “It would be helpful for sure. Although, tolerance is an easy word to say and ask of others. The media ask it and the politicians too and we ask others of it. And yet it is such a nuanced and complicated thing, they ask without explaining its meaning and the ways to practice it successfully”.
Son: “What do you mean ?”
Pappa: “Well an offhand example might be the shaming of the hoarders and panic buyers. On the face of it, the anger leveled at people deemed as selfish and un-thoughtful feels merited, and yet it is the vocabulary used and the shaming by the media that will create social friction. Those that are fearful, misinformed and un-trusting of social infrastructures will react differently to uncertain conditions, often that will mean ensuring they are safe by stocking-up and being self-sufficient. By creating stigma and accusation we scapegoat and make those people feel more alienated. On the flip-side those buying more than they need must understand the damage they are doing to the social cohesiveness.
We will all react differently in one way or another to the threat of this virus.
It’s well-known we are all part of humanity, an organism which is constructed of unique individuals with characters defined by their/our past. Many of us are comfortable in our taken-for-granted reality and we are not too eager to leave it. We often don’t realize that we see the world through a specific set of lenses and that others see the world through their own distinctive lenses. We may even believe that everyone has the same experiences, opportunities and chances that we have. But by taking this view, and failing to be reflexive, we render ourselves unable to see the obstacles, inequalities, and problems that others may face.
In other words:
Walking in the shoes of others and seeing the bigger picture is a great metaphor - but if you want to walk in the shoes of others you must first know what shoes you walk in, aka reflexivity. Otherwise, you will not be able to feel the blisters and bunions that others may experience.
Son: “So to make you worry less we should all be more tolerant with each other?”
Pappa: “No son, for me to worry less, we should actively learn to be gentle and strong like the toilet roll your mamma forgot to buy at the supermarket hahahahah! Let’s go and prepare for the start of home-schooling tomorrow… Let’s hope we can all learn to be gentle and strong when required”.