There is a line in the Enda Walsh play ‘Once’ where the female lead character describes the beauty of art as an attempt to articulate the indescribably reality of what it means ‘to be a person’. It’s a line that has stayed with me; the idea that part of our purpose as humans is to finally understand what it means to be a ‘person’ is one that I find both comforting and hopeful.
It is a question that is a lifetime’s work to answer, but one which feels particularly pressing in the current circumstances.
People are scared and uncertain about their own futures. We are all looking for comfort and reassurance. I am as exasperated with panic buying and the erratic control policies as anyone but, what I can also see is that they are coming from people’s deepest core programming – the desire to DO something in the face of an unseeable danger; the need to feel that someone, anyone, is in charge. In this upside-down world, Asda and the Derbyshire police have become the metaphorical parents to the nation.
What worries me more is when that natural fear leads us further down the path – to a place where we can only feel safe by thinking that this terrible thing is happening only to ‘other’ people, not to us.
‘Underlying conditions’ is a darkly Orwellian term, meaning at once anything and nothing.
The idea that we ask how many of the tragic deaths reported each day involved ‘underlying conditions’ feels to me like a dangerous road for us to head down, which is arguably connected to other recent controversies like the expansion of ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) notices that emerged in some areas as part of their response.
Underlying conditions risks becoming a form of ‘othering’; where we distance ourselves from something uncomfortable by placing it outside a common ‘us’. Whilst understanding someone’s medical history is an important part of researching and treating Covid-19, routine use of this as part of reporting resulting deaths is not; and by fostering a sense that this is a threat that is specific to a minority (albeit a minority numbered in the millions in the UK) increases the risk to us all.
None of us are perfect human beings; some of us have physical challenges; some psychological; some emotional. We are no less people for that. In fact, it is in the richness of combining the perspectives hard won from the full range of life experience and really trying to connect with each other empathetically, that we come anywhere close to seeing the real fullness of the human experience.
As we pass through this experience I, like many others, can’t help but keep looking around for clues as to what will be on the other side – what will emerge from the rubble of hat we took for granted as ‘normality’ only 4 weeks ago?
For that reason, and for so many others, I would like us to move away from dividing up humanity into those with or without underlying conditions; to leave that to the researchers and clinicians trying to understand the virus and its progression.
For the rest of us, trying only to make sense of life and to survive, all that should matter is our common humanity. And that is something I would like to see as a building block for the world on the other side.