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Neighbourhood watch: Curtain-Twitching and Coronavirus

This week’s regular blog from Anthony Peacock covers virtue-signalling in the time of coronavirus lockdown. Although it can be easy to judge others during lockdown life, Anthony prompts us to consider our motivations for this. Are we simply acting out of fear? In the end, it would be better to forgo our judgements and act with compassion and kindness. Read on for a thoughtful perspective on quarantine humanity.

 

Neighbourhood Watch

Of all the horrendous stories I’ve heard about this country in immediate post-lockdown syndrome – and I’ve heard quite a few now – the most alarming was perhaps the tale from a suburb of London recently, where a lady (who probably had several other urgent and pressing matters to attend to) was ‘outed’ in her neighbourhood WhatsApp chat for not having emerged on her doorstep at 8pm on a Thursday to clap for carers.

I don’t know anything at all about the background, but I imagine that the poor lady in question was accused of uncharitable behaviour or something similar by her coven of uptight neighbours.

While lockdown has brought many people together, we’ve also seen the nasty side of virtue-signalling raise its ugly head on a regular basis. If I were the lady concerned, I’d be sorely tempted to move out of my house and turn it into a homeless shelter instead. All welcome.

Then we would actually see what the bourgeois neighbours thought about charity really coming to their doorsteps – and I imagine that they wouldn’t necessarily be applauding then.

But seriously: in these times, who would actually berate someone – without any knowledge of the individual’s circumstances – for not showing sufficient solidarity during what’s become a mere national ritual? Who are we to judge? What gives any of us the right?

Virtue in the wrong hands is more dangerous than a chimpanzee with an Uzi. The sort of people who abuse their neighbours for no reason tend to be the same sort of people who take pride in wearing high-visibility jackets and wielding clipboards for fun.

Some peoples’ life experiences have made them like this, so ultimately they are more deserving of sympathy than disapprobation. But that’s often hard to muster towards these die-hard disciples of health, safety and other people’s morality.

Those who act this way often do so out of fear. A normal counterpoint to fear is aggression, which is why the people who seem particularly angry or censorious at the moment are frequently those who are most affected and frightened.

Take social distancing (or physical distancing as some business owners prefer to call it, in a bid to persuade people to come out and socialise – just in a different way). There’s been a general relaxation of the rules and even the government, specifically Boris Johnson, has called upon people simply to use their ‘British common sense’.

 

silhouette-of-child-looking-on-window-blinds-nosy-neighbour

 

The problem is, the definition of what exactly that constitutes varies wildly from person to person. I’ve personally seen about five cases of heated conflict happening just in the last week in London and it’s always roughly the same argument.

One person, often wearing a mask, says to another ‘stay back’ or ‘keep away from me.’ The other person – perhaps insulted by the insinuation that they are somehow toxic – retaliates with something along the lines of: ‘if you’re that scared, then just stay at home.’

In the most extreme example I witnessed, it ended with a threat to call the police amid accusations of racism, as one of the two was Chinese.

But who is scared of who? In truth, both are petrified of each other. The mask-wearer is scared of the other person, while the one who answers back is scared of the world and what it has become – which he can no longer control. It’s entirely understandable. Those people – the aggressors – are terrified of living in a world where they have to interact closely with other (masked) people and trust authority. They are scared of being small and powerless, because ultimately they are scared of themselves. But that doesn’t make them bad.

It sounds far-fetched and extreme, but there are many who will recognise a bit of both of those people and attitudes in themselves. I know I do.

What’s harder to work out is the undisguised glee that some people seem to take over snitching on others. I guess that’s down to the famously British sense of fair play: those who live doggedly by the rule book think that it’s unfair on them if others don’t. But fair play is also about not jumping to conclusions and respecting the opinions and actions of others, even if you don’t agree with them.

If people are being asked to use their common sense when it comes down to what to do – which seems to be the case – then common sense must also apply when it comes to judging others, rather than letting the inner freelance policeman take over.

By increasing enforcement you decrease individual thought and responsibility. At some point – probably very soon – we’re all going to have to decide when we feel it’s safe and appropriate to recommence our normal day to day activities. That point will come at different times for different people, for very different reasons. But the current situation simply can’t go on forever: the economic damage is already too great.

So now is not the time to claim the moral high ground, which too many people are over-eager to climb. Nobody knows exactly what’s going on in anybody else’s life. Instead, consider what really matters – rather than just what you want to show people you are thinking or doing – and demonstrate compassion towards those feeling more frightened or cynical than you. Their fear is real, but curtain-twitching or shaming doesn’t solve anything.

 

For more of Anthony Peacock’s coronavirus content, why not read some of his recent articles?

Freedom of Choice: In Favour of a Simpler Life

Adventure in the Time of Coronavirus: To Travel Hopefully…

 

Adventure in the Time of Coronavirus: To Travel Hopefully…

This week’s ULU community blog comes from Anthony Peacock. And those of you who have been following along will know that Anthony has been writing about life in the time of coronavirus. Today, Anthony writes about travel and what this might look like in the coming months and years.

 

To travel hopefully….

For as long as I can remember, I have travelled: even before I went anywhere. As a kid, I used to pore over the British Airways timetable – back in the days when it was printed – and dream of places that sounded unfeasibly exotic at the time.

Those prosaic timetables, printed on what felt like tissue paper, opened up a world of magic and I used to devour them with quasi-religious excitement. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that many years later I ended up in a job where I was actually flying every week: sometimes more than once a week.

But I say ‘was’ flying (in the past tense) as recently I’ve not been flying anywhere. Not since a very short trip to Australia in the middle of March. That’s probably the longest I’ve ever gone for the majority of my life without getting on a plane.

Now, people are beginning to perhaps think about flying again. Until they read the newspaper. There, they are shocked to find out about potential four-hour airport delays, exorbitant fares, and 14-day quarantine periods on return.

For most people, that’s enough to convince them that staying at home – even when legislation no longer requires it – will be a more attractive option. But there’s more than one perspective on every situation. Because in many ways, there’s never going to be a better time to travel.

The whole philosophy behind travel will almost certainly change in the short-term. The days of mass-market, low-cost ‘disposable’ travel is probably gone – at least for now. Instead, people will want to make trips that are more meaningful: not least because they will also need to ‘invest’ in a fortnight of self-isolation once they return.

So there’s no point anymore in having the odd weekend away to a nearby and obvious destination. Instead, if you’re going anywhere at all, the time is right to take longer trips and visit the places you always wanted to go, rather than just where is cheap and convenient.

Travel costs are going to go up though, and the high-density routes will make this most obvious, as the travel industry seeks to recoup the terrifying amount of money it has lost as quickly as possible. But those increases will be far smaller when it comes to the offbeat and less popular routes, as not many people were travelling to them anyway.

All the more reason to seek them out: perhaps venturing into parts of Eastern Europe that you might not have considered before, for example. There are so many surprises to be had, with hoteliers and restaurateurs set to be eternally grateful for your business, once tourism is open again. Even then, there won’t be a huge take-up: these beautiful places will be relatively free of tourist traffic. It’s a rare chance to see them in a natural setting.

 

traveller-wearing-backpack-staring-at-mountain

 

But what about money? The coronavirus outbreak has caused some seismic changes to the British economy, and there will inevitably be people who find themselves without a job and with no prospect of immediate re-employment. This has already caused countless people to re-evaluate their careers and priorities. Some will even be forced to change their entire circumstances and acknowledge that their professional lives as they once knew them have come to an end. There’s just no getting around that.

One friend of mine – a freelance writer whose work has all but dried up – described his existence these days as being largely like being a student: days spent asleep and drinking beer, with a bit of daytime TV and reading thrown in. He knows that there’s no real prospect of things going back to the way they were in the immediate future though, so he has an alternative plan.

He’s going to give up his expensive flat in London and is now completing the restoration of his old Volkswagen campervan – similar to the one you see in the photo – which has been an ongoing project over the last couple of years. Only now, he’s actually got the time to do it.

And when everything is good to travel again, he’s going to load it up, take a ferry to France, and see what happens next. Essentially, he’s taking a gap year exploring Europe (although it might turn out to be a longer or shorter period of time) which is something he’s always wanted to do. He’ll do a bit of writing along the way and hopefully earn enough to continue the journey until it’s time to return to the real world.

His logic is impeccable: his conventional career has come to a natural break and there’s nothing to lose at the moment (apart from everyday bills). He could never justify such a trip before, but now – why not?

Hearing about his plans, who can say that they don’t feel at least a small pang of envy? Of course, it’s not as simple as that for most people, tied by families, businesses, schools and other obligations.

But more and more families are actually now planning a ‘semi-sabbatical’ where they go away together and work from somewhere else for a while: especially if they have recently been put on permanent part-time or working from home deals. They’re thinking that it’s now or never, and their destinations (to name but two I’ve heard recently) range from Spain to New Zealand.

So it’s not that travelling will stop completely: it’s more that there will be other, more mindful, permanent, and worthwhile ways to do it in future. Tourism will no longer be about instant gratification. Instead, the ‘trip of a lifetime’ might genuinely become a reality rather than just a tired cliché for the growing number of people who decide to take the plunge and head for pastures new in the coming weeks.

 

 

For more of Anthony’s insightful blogs about coronavirus and the modern world, why not check out some of his recent articles?

Coronavirus Week 7: “The New Normal?”

Post-Coronavirus: Be Careful What You Wish For…

Coronavirus Week 7: “The New Normal?”

 

As we settle into week 7 of coronavirus lockdown, Anthony Peacock has written us a blog about what “the new normal” might look be. Read on to find out about how cost, value and good service might look in a post-coronavirus world, and to find out about the ‘death of premium.’

 

“The New Normal..?”

Things are definitely waking up around here. Time to adjust to the ‘new normal’. But for those of us who have ordinary working lives, out of the direct line of fire from coronavirus, what exactly does that mean? What will we notice most when we’re eased back into our everyday professional activities?

Less money, certainly, but – staying positive – this sometimes brings out the best in people. There was a remarkable story from Germany recently about how Lufthansa pilots had accepted a pay cut of up to 45% until June 2022, in return for no redundancies.

This was definitely not the sort of compromising attitude you expect to find from a pilots’ union: organisations that are normally every bit as litigious as American divorce lawyers.

But the first thing you learn in any business is to spot the difference between cost and value. So what will your less money buy you? How will the world have changed, economically?

There will be more working from home and less travel. Sticking with the aviation topic, some airlines might even decommission business class, just to get more seats on the plane (as social distancing guidelines will restrict the number of people in each row). Fares will almost certainly go up and there will now be almost no difference between a so-called ‘premium’ airline and a budget one.

This redefinition of ‘premium’ is something we’re likely to see in every area of work and life.

Here’s an example: there’s a very well-established supermarket not far from me, which due to social distancing guidelines has restricted its opening hours and laid out a series of time-consuming rules, complete with a fluorescent-jacketed bouncer on the door, giving the place the atmosphere of a nasty nightclub. These rules are here to stay for quite some time: maybe as long as a year.

Alternatively, there’s a scruffy corner shop run by some friendly people with an eclectic array of produce that ranges from counterfeit biscuits (which, surprisingly, taste better than the brand they are trying to copy) to crisps in flavours you never realised existed. They are open until nearly midnight every day, couldn’t be more helpful – even dishing out free chocolate on one occasion – and you are in and out as quickly as you want to be. No queues, no hassle, no lecturing. It’s not hard to judge what feels to be the more premium service.

The old adage goes that if you want something done properly, the best way is to do it yourself (obviously the person who coined that phrase never watched me hang a painting on a wall).

But the whole notion of ‘good service’ previously prided itself on removing that burden by attentively doing things for you. Now, coronavirus means that people will be expected to do far more things for themselves, on top of their day jobs. That’s going to be a big change.

 

shop-closed-due-to-coronavirus-lockdown

 

In many cases, it’s now impossible to get something done for you by someone else:

restaurants will no longer be able to provide the service they would like to and it’s still going to be hard to get things fixed or delivered, even once lockdown is lifted.

This means that the touch points of how to provide a premium service have definitely changed: something for any who works in a service industry to consider. And with people also less willing and able to pay for the classic definition of ‘premium’, everyone is going to have to quite radically re-think the way that they and their companies work. That’s a source of anxiety, but also opportunity.

In all likelihood, the short-term business culture will focus on providing services that make it easier for people to do things by themselves, rather than attempting to do it for them.

As people adapt themselves to the current situation, their expectations are also different, so we all have to shift to meet these new priorities.

A couple of people I know, who were previously capable of burning water, have now not only been forced to cook but actually enjoy the whole process. I suspect they will be seeing the inside of restaurants a lot less frequently than before, as their eyes have been opened to a different way of enjoying themselves. Like many people, they are likely to be less demanding of the physical infrastructure around them in future, instead prioritising value and convenience.

So, no more premium brands? Is the possible death of business class on planes a symptom of a wider societal shift? If we’re going to be travelling less, walking more, and being more ‘mindful’ of our lifestyles – a sentiment that many different people have expressed – what’s the point in having a premium German car when you could get something much smaller, cheaper and environmentally-friendly from Japan?

It’s not exactly a rejection of consumerism, but instead the adoption of a different type of consumerism. So it’s likely that we will see a big explosion of self-help in all its forms over the coming weeks: whether psychological, physical, or digital.

One thing everyone agrees on is that there will be change, and that change is one of the biggest causes of stress. While adaptable, humans are fundamentally creatures of habit.

Recognising that these important changes are coming – in both our personal and professional lives – and analysing what they mean is key to getting the very most out of them. The opportunities are there because the things we fundamentally like and dislike haven’t changed at all: only our way of doing them.

 

For more of Anthony Peacock’s coronavirus content, check out some of his recent articles:

Post-Coronavirus: Be Careful What You Wish For…

Lockdown Life: Musings From the One-Month Mark

 

Post-Coronavirus: Be Careful What You Wish For…

 

This week we have another blog from content and PR extraordinaire, Anthony Peacock. In light of some of our pre-coronavirus freedoms gradually returning, Anthony writes about what life may look like in the coming weeks. He also gives an interesting counter-perspective to those who believe that everything will return to ‘normal.’ So, what will the new normal look like?

 

Be careful what you wish for…

There are signs in the capital that the UK is waking up from its economic slumber caused by the coronavirus outbreak. In the news, it’s been widely reported that more “non-essential” shops and businesses are opening: despite the government still saying that nobody should undertake “non-essential” journeys – so how does that work, exactly?

It’s also obvious that there are many more people out in parks and on the streets now than there were just a week ago. The other day I even sat in a traffic jam, which for the first time in living memory actually felt like a cause for celebration.

Or was it? Because many people equate the concept of getting back to normal life with merely swapping one set of deep anxieties for another. With more free movement there’s the risk of infection rates increasing of course. But surprisingly that’s not what a lot of people are worried about. (Although it does certainly play a part: only 37 per cent of people surveyed recently by YouGov said that they would be just as happy as before to return to a pub or bar once the lockdown is lifted).

What we’re seeing instead is a dramatically increased level of social anxiety, although not everyone will admit it. Not only have many people become unaccustomed to human contact, they’ve also become actively distrustful of it. In other words, people have in many cases forgotten how to relate to other people, especially if their only medium of contact has been via a computer screen thanks to Zoom and other teleconferencing apps.

One friend of mine, who owns a small marketing company, told me how difficult it has been in the last few days to maintain effective relationships among his employees. Without daily face-to-face interaction, a couple of them had resorted to vicious bickering via e-mail. And we all know how people say things to each other online that they would never dream about saying in real life.

At the heart of this though – as I told him – is anxiety. And it’s self-perpetuating, because of the chain of tensions that it causes throughout an organisation (or family). Even my friend, the business owner, is “dreading going back now”. As well as being a mediator, he’s going to have to take some tough decisions to get his team working effectively again.

For other people, the concerns are more prosaic: how will they cope with getting up, travelling to work, scheduling meetings, dealing with people, coming home, and carrying out their domestic tasks as well? In short, everything that they used to do before without thinking about it. It may have been just two months ago, but it feels like a lifetime.

 

woman-video-chatting-in-coronavirus-isolation-by-window

 

Through lack of familiarity, even that everyday routine seems daunting. Many people are even questioning if they have the physical energy, courage, and time to cope with it. “It’s going to be really hard for us to find the confidence to peek out at the world,” as one lady interviewed by Channel 4 put it.

She’s speaking for many. Because the world we go back to might look alien and dystopian, with far fewer of the freedoms we took for granted and an underlying climate of fear.

There will be people wearing masks and uniforms, telling the public what they can do, where, and when. Life is going to feel uncertain, authoritarian and perhaps scary. So, for many people, it would be much easier just to take refuge in the now-familiar surroundings of their own four walls – an environment they can at least control – until it’s all over. Whenever that is.

For all the people you hear about who have cabin fever and say they are raring to go out, there is an equal number – perhaps even a bigger one – of people who instead want to hide and stay in.

The workplace atmosphere has also changed. Even without meaning to, the number of people losing their jobs (British Airways alone is to shed 12,000 people) means that the message companies are sending their employees is that they should feel grateful still to have a job at all: and work harder accordingly.

Further job losses in future can’t be ruled out: even when restaurants (for example) re-open, they’re almost certainly going to be operating at 30 to 40 per cent capacity, due to social distancing regulations. Some companies are even creating plexiglass ‘walls’ that could fit around each restaurant table. Is that really going to be an enjoyable experience? No wonder people are frightened or reluctant to go out.

In the latest YouGov survey this week, 29% of people described themselves as ‘stressed’ while 17% said they were definitely ‘scared’. That even includes a number of premiership football players, who are reluctant to return to action despite a plan to re-start the Premier League in early June.

An end to lockdown won’t mean an end to anxiety. But just as the government narrative is that we might have to live with this virus for a while, it’s just as important to learn to understand and manage the social anxiety that inevitably comes with it.

Anthony Peacock.

 

To read more of Anthony’s thoughts on the modern landscape of coronavirus, here are some of his recent blog posts:

Lockdown Life: Musings From the One-Month Mark

Anthony Peacock – Necessity: the mother of invention

Reframing Lockdown: Time To Make a Change?