Monday Postcard #131 – What I Learned in 8 Weeks of Social Distancing
“Lockdown” Is not a Term Politicians Like to Use
Across the world, governments tried to avoid the term “lockdown”. Singapore called it “circuit breaker”. In Austria we had “Ausgangsbeschränkungen”, which means limitations for going out. Stores and restaurants were closed, we were not allowed to meet family and friends and there were only four exceptions to leave the house. Some regions were under “quarantine” with more severe measures. De facto, this was a lockdown, without anyone using the word. I think it would be interesting to do some research why the term has been widely avoided by political leaders.
The Image of Women
A positive side of social distancing has been the proof that home office does work. People who perform in an office setting, will most probably also perform from home. Face time does not equal productivity. I hope that this will contribute to more flexible job models which will allow parents to accommodate work and family. I deliberately say “parents” here. Because the negative side of social distancing was that working mothers were cornered into the role of the caregiver. Our governments were easing restrictions about shopping, hairdressers, restaurants and even the national soccer league. But for weeks, there was no discussion about when kindergartens and schools reopen. As most political leaders are white men, and especially in Austria, have a conservative family image, they probably did not see a need for day care. Why would they? I imagine it to be really easy to be on video calls and focussing on projects while a toddler is screaming in the background because they miss their friends… I also saw many women accept that their partners “had to be the ones focussing on their jobs” and took over more of the traditional “female” tasks in the household. While I do not want to judge, because every situation is different, I am still sad to see that some women supported this model – some more easily than others. However, there were many of my friends who did not and split the tasks evenly with their partners.
I have been dedicating myself to environmentalism for some time and I have been really vocal about it here. Hence, I have been aware about what is happening to our planet. But the past weeks made it even clearer. During my walks and runs in the countryside, I saw many rabbits, deer, pheasants. The forest was very noisy – not because of the usual car noise from the nearby roads; because birds were chirping and woodpeckers were working on trees. I enjoyed this silence and to witness spring’s slow arrival in Austria on a daily basis. My camera feed on the phone is full of flower pictures. Today, at the beginning of week nine and after Austria has slowly come back to life, I realised the noise from the nearby highway. It seemed even louder than before the measures but maybe I am just not used to it anymore.
Even on a global level, we could see what happens when we stop treating Mother Earth the way we used to: In Eastern Thailand, just a few hours outside of the capital Bangkok, a caravan of 50 elephants crossed a street. Monkeys soon took over – with quite some aggressive behaviour because the tourists who usually fed them were gone. Otters are being spotted in Singapore. Notoriously polluted cities such as New Delhi have seen the highest drop in pollution levels in 20 years.
I have written about this in Postcard #128 – one of the biggest challenges the pandemic created (apart from being a pandemic itself) was to the foundations of our democracy. Countries with autocratic systems and 24 hour monitoring suddenly were the ones sold as “best in class”. I am not reiterating what I said in Postcard #128. But one paradox has been on my mind for weeks. Austria calls itself a “Cultural Nation”. A large part of our tourism is based on culture and many globally known writers, thinkers, artists and rebels have come from Austria. However, during this pandemic, our government was more concerned about the national soccer league (Austria sucks at soccer, we joke that we can only participate in the big tournaments if we ourselves host them). Compared to the spillover effects and importance of the cultural scene, the overall impact of Austrian soccer is comparatively negligible. Yet, cultural organisations and artists were being left alone by the government.
It reminded me when I talked to Croatian artist Igor Eskinja. He stressed the importance of culture in the European context. “Culture is what we as Europeans bring to humanity in global terms. I can see a lot of movement across Europe into a populist direction, cutting funds for culture and making it disappear slowly. Dissolving the European project economically and culturally is dangerous. We are one big family with different languages and need to build on this strength.” I cannot stop thinking that maybe the coronavirus is being taken as an excuse for this movement…
Accept What You Cannot Change and Be Flexible
When I made my first steps into the start-up scene, I hated the term “pivot”. It was part of the start-up lingo which also incorporated English terms into German. As a first-time founder, I was always told, I need to be able to be flexible and pivot if situations change. It always made me so angry because this is part of start-up life – and life in general. We always have to react quickly and adapt to change. Most of the time, those who told me to “be flexible” had never left their comfort zone. Most of us have been affected by the social distancing measures in some way or the other. When I look around, those who reacted quickly and found creative ways to deal with the crisis, are the ones I consider true success stories.
There were days when I felt paralysed and I just wanted to complain. But the longer the situation went on, the more I realised that I had to accept it and find a way to deal with it. (Accepting the status quo is something very tough for me…) Looking back, I actually accomplished a lot work-wise, despite the daily challenges still posed by the pandemic. Maybe I accomplished even more than under usual circumstances. (I attribute this to the fact that during the first weeks, work was my way to distract myself from the scary news.) I also think that because I was not hurrying from one meeting to another, I was forced to reflect and think about strategies and ideas.
Wait and Breathe
I still do not know when I can travel again. Austria still has closed borders, there are some exceptions for EU citizens to travel within the EU. Bangkok itself is still in lockdown – restrictions in the city about shops and restaurants are being eased but even domestic travel within Thailand is still heavily restricted. Closed borders affect me not only professionally but also personally. There were – and still are – days when I get really frustrated. Frustrated about the fact that my life is impacted but also about the growing racism and suspicion against everything from abroad. (Also something you can read up in the Monday Postcard #128.) I am a control freak and it makes me nervous when I have a feeling of being paralysed or fighting against windmills like Don Quijote. But the past weeks have shown me that there are situations in life which are beyond my control. And I need to learn to deal with them. I am still working on this – my daily walks and runs through the forest help and talking to people who always manage to see the bright side.
Have a good week ahead!