National Comment Comment

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out the best and worst in humanity

It's those small acts of kindness that can make all the difference

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Wind back the clock to March last year and immerse yourself into that panic struck shopping car park. As you try your best to socially distance through the horde of anxious shoppers you pass Range Rovers filled to the brim with toilet paper. In one car, it's practically seeping out of the sunroof. This not-too-distant reality has thankfully passed. However, the selfish flurry to the shops did provoke some interesting questions. The obvious one being, why toilet roll? I mean I personally would have stockpiled crisps, but that’s beside the point. The more pressing question is why did we allow stockpiling to become such a large problem that supermarkets had to respond by placing limits on high demand items?

In times of crisis, humans instinctively revert to acting out of self-interest. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan famously advocated that a strong state was necessary to avoid the chaos that would emerge out of a society fuelled by self-interest. At first thought, Hobbes’ model of a strong state sounds a bit too authoritarian and I wouldn’t be surprised if you are starting to have flashbacks to George Orwell’s novel 1984.

In times of crisis though, the UK government proved that Hobbes’ model of government was just what was needed, by passing the Coronavirus Act 2020 which granted Boris Johnson’s Cabinet a vast array of emergency powers. It’s inevitable that if the police couldn’t fine you £800 for attending a party of more than 15 people then house parties would be more likely. Nobody likes the excessive infringements on personal liberty, but we can probably all admit that if the deterrent of the law didn’t exist then going round to a mate’s to do the Conga at a party would be very tempting.

Though, what Hobbes didn’t quite get right was the supposition that humans always act in a way that is conducive to their own interests. The pandemic has led to people showing extraordinary acts of kindness and selflessness. A high profile example is the charitable work undertaken by Captain Sir Thomas Moore. At the age of 99, it wouldn’t have been shameful for Moore to stay on the sofa drinking cups of tea and in the safe confines of his home. But no. Instead, Moore really did show that ‘age is just a number’ by raising £39 million with tax rebates for NHS Charities Together. Yes, Moore may be an extreme example of someone that has gone out of their way in a time of crisis, although what is most telling about this role model is that he was ‘unassuming’.

Covid-19 has broken down social tensions and distrust in communities, where previously the only meaningful social interaction with your neighbour was likely to be reduced to a rushed “hello” in the street. More time and attention has been directed towards those seeing out the lockdowns alone. Initially, a few communities set up a daily dancing ‘sesh’ in the mornings and in my village in Suffolk outdoor coffee ‘chit chat’ events were organised to keep spirits up. Though these instances of inconsequential social interaction may seem insignificant, small gestures of kindness can make lumbering out of bed the next day that much easier.

With Covid-19 curtailing social interaction, it has left us time to ‘battle’ with our mind. Time to think “I should have done this'' or “I wish I had done that differently”. We have had to acclimatise to going “out out” no longer meaning going from the pub to the club but going for a walk with a friend or picking up a sausage roll from Greggs (vegan of course).

As the rollout of vaccines points to an alluring endpoint, it’s important to take the time to reflect upon who has played the role of an unassuming hero in your life. Maybe it was the person that rang you on a Monday afternoon when you were feeling a little down? Or the friend that accompanied you on weekly walks? Everyone has found the pandemic frustrating and debilitating in ‘some way or another’ and therefore it’s those small acts of kindness that come out of nowhere which we need to appreciate.

There is a commonly recited dictum which says, “When you face a crisis, you know who your true friends are”. Now, more than ever, this old wise saying seems to ring true. So, though your friend’s kindness may not justify a 6pm Thursday clap in their honour, do find your own way of letting them know that they’ve bucked the Hobbesian trend. Humans don’t always act out of self-interest.

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