Social Initiative Forum Project Leader Joan Sleigh highlights three questions emerging out of the COVID-19 pandemic and current events worldwide in this 4-part series.
Text: Joan Sleigh [ZA] | Photos: Kfar Rafael [IL]
One thing is necessary – here
in this difficult world of ours
of the unsheltered and the homeless:
To inhabit the self
To step into the dark
and to clean the soot from the lamp.
So that people on the paths
Can see light
in your inhabited eyes. |1|
-Hans Børli (1918-1989)
Three main areas of the social impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic can be identified as follows:
1. Fear of the unknown origin of the virus, anxiety due to the lack of appropriate and effective treatment, as well as disempowerment are felt in the face of an unpredictable future;
2. Isolation accompanied by loneliness is an existential experience of mainly elderly and single people. On the other hand, social overcrowding where large families or social groups are confined into cramped and unhygienic spaces. Without being able to withdraw for alone-time or individual space (as in the townships and slum areas in Africa, Latin America, and India), this can easily escalate into acts of violence and social unrest; and
3. Unemployment due to the shutdown of industries and services, has become a life-threatening reality for millions of casual workers in poorer groups and countries, bringing with it hunger and despair, lack of purpose and fulfillment, which in the end encourages crime and pursuit of unhealthy self-satisfaction.
In exploring the impact of living in an ever-present reality of fear and anxiety on social interactions, Rainer Maria Rilke expresses it in the following :
“Fear of the unexplainable has not only impoverished our inner lives but also diminished relations between people; … For it is not only sluggishness that makes human relations so unspeakably monotonous, but it is also the aversion to any new, unforeseen experience we are not sure we can handle.”
We can add to ‘the aversion’ due to the lockdown, the ‘impermeability’ of any new and unforeseen experience. The impact of fear on social encounters often manifest in outer withdrawal, inner atrophy, and emotional shutdown.
Some turn inward. For example, those confined to isolation through the high-risk factor are called to face those unknown fears. Others who can move about freely go to brighter places. Both seem to follow a drive towards interconnectedness, made possible in a new way through technology, and so move beyond the personal confinement within the self.
What is hidden in this longing for connectedness?
Human friendship in search of something light, beautiful, inspirational?
A thought? An image? A living being?
Perhaps oneself as a living being, recognized through the encounter with another?
In sensing an inner drive to move beyond personal isolation, a growing practice of slowing down, taking time to pause, to observe and notice what is happening around, seems to be emerging. A new level of observation, looking and perceiving beyond one’s own inner experiences of anxiety and vulnerability seem to offer some kind of a balance. Along with it, a new possibility to sense and face the unknown and unreliable future emerges.
Through seeing and absorbing the subtle happenings all around, transcending the sense of isolation, and awakening interest for a world in constant change, we are filled with life and energy and abundance. The challenge of this very strange time seems to suggest that increased interest and awareness of everything around are awakened, thus balancing fear, anxiety, and isolation.
The abundance of nature, the beauty of an unexpected conversation on the road, and the quiet of a slower pace of life appear as gifts within the pandemic.
Whether it be a wildflower, an insect, the sunset, or a child.
Initiative featured in photo: Kfar Rafael [IL]
|1| Hans Børli (1918-1989)
Eins ist notwendig – hier
in dieser unserer schwierigen Welt
von Haus- und Heimatlosen:
In sich selber wohnhaft zu werden
Ins Dunkle zu treten
und den Ruß von der Lampe zu putzen.
So, dass die Menschen auf den Wegen
Licht erblicken können
in deinen bewohnten Augen.