Connection & Compassion in the Smallest Encounters

During recent months, many articles have been written on the topic of love – especially on how to find or sustain it during the the coronavirus pandemic. We know, and feel, that our relationships are changing in many ways. We see each other less, but we have more contact online.

But what about the relationships we have with the few people we pass on the way to the supermarket, in the metro, or out on a run? What has changed in these smallest of encounters with our fellow humans? It seems to me that the way we engage and relate to strangers on the street is changing, too.

Strangers Become Threats

With the virus spreading quickly, we have been told to physically distance ourselves from one another. Out in the streets, we give each other a wide berth. However, with physical distance comes an emotional distance, too. Strangers become potential ‘threats’ – potential carriers of the virus that can harm us or those around us.

The coronavirus brings more division than ever. The ‘other’ becomes something completely separate from us – not somebody to respect and engage with, but some ‘body’ to avoid. We see such thinking acted out in the physical fights happening in supermarkets and in the xenophobia and racism being shown.

Though such behavior is outrageous and unacceptable, it is important to acknowledge the heightened levels of anxiety people are experiencing. With more people feeling on edge, aggression and violence may result. More generally, many people are experiencing mental ill-health due to the pandemic, with feelings of depression and loneliness seemingly rising. All the more reason to connect and stand strong, together.

Face Masks, Communication and Understanding

Face masks make it harder to communicate and understand others. Of course, wearing a mask is sometimes necessitated by someone’s line of work, or is recommended by a government. It is relevant, though, to keep in mind that wearing a face mask changes something in our non-verbal communication. Facial expression is key to expressing ourselves and in understanding others. Kathleen M. Pike, Director of the Columbia-WHO Centre in Global Mental Health, explains that:

We need to remember that as our masks intercept the transmission of coronavirus, they also intercept important non-verbal communications that are universal to our emotional connection.

Physical Distancing Does Not Equal Emotional Distancing

With or without face masks, our relationships with the people we encounter while we go about our days are changing. Many people are longing for intimacy, but finding it hard to find while we are obliged to keep our distance. We can, however, offer the people we pass warmth through our eyes, our tone and our energy.

We can acknowledge other people’s existence and humanity, instead of turning away or looking at them through a lens of fear. Let’s draw smiles on our face masks, and wave at those on the other side of the street. Not knowing how much longer we’ll need to keep our physical distance, we could do with learning how to connect to others during even the smallest of encounters.

Isolation Inspiration: Dedicate Time to Yourself

I know many of you are, like me, experiencing a lockdown or something similar. Here in South Africa, many of us were preparing to go back to life as usual until the announcement came that our lockdown was being extended for a further three weeks. A few months ago I’d probably have been begging for three weeks of time to myself, and now here it is, albeit under slightly stricter rules and unfortunate circumtances.

I’ve compiled a list of things to do, read, listen to and think about during this isolated time.

1. Have a routine. If you want to be productive during your lockdown period, you need to set out a routine for yourself. Set a to-do list in the evening for the following day and try to stick to it. I try and make sure all my admin, chores and exercise routines are done by lunch time, giving myself some downtime thereafter. That being said, it’s important to realise that this is also a time of uncertainty, grief and worry. You don’t have to be constantly productive, and if this isn’t a productive time for you, don’t beat yourself up about it. We all have different paths that we venture on at different paces. If having a routine helps you be productive, try your best to stick to it – it could do wonders for your mental space.

2. Read. You know all those times you’ve told people you’re too busy to read? Well here you have it: time. Dive into your must-read list and find some new books to enjoy. Steer away from your electronics and decide to live in an author’s world for a while instead. I find that indulging in another world takes some of the worries about our current circumstances away. Reading about inspirational, powerful and resilient women has also kept me motivated.

My Feminist Reading List:

3. Declutter your belongings, declutter your mind. This is the perfect time to organise and sort out everything you swore you would before the new year started but never quite got round to. Give your old clothes away to those in need, get your work / study space structured, dig through some old storage items, and why not attempt a DIY project? It’s natural to get ‘cabin fever’ during this time and the best way to combat that is to ensure your surrounding space stays exciting and creative.

4. Try something new. During this period of time you could try at least one new thing. Whether it is a physical exercise, cooking a new recipe or challenging yourself to some new creative outlets – be daring! Who cares if it’s a flop – that excitement of starting something new could be beneficial for your mind at the moment.

5. Join a yoga or meditation group and practice mindfulness. This is the ideal time to push your reset button and re-align your mind and body. Also, supporting your local yoga studio can be equally beneficial to both you and them. Small businesses need us now more than ever. I personally find it hard to quieten my mind and so have challenged myself to trying more mindfulness practices.

6. Stay active. Home workout tips and videos are all over the internet now – there has been no better time to try out new programs or trainers from the comfort of your own home and find what works for you. Stay active for your mental and physical health, NOT because of any pressure from others or yourself. There are far bigger issues at the moment than physical appearances.

7. Visit a virtual gallery. Since lots of us have had to cancel travel plans for the next few months, galleries around the world have ensured no one misses out on any exhibitions. Use this as creative inspiration and even create your own art pieces at home after your virtual tour.

8. Connect. For introverts like me, this time has been revitalising and energy-generating but even I am starting to feel the physical isolation. Apps such as FaceTime, Zoom and HouseParty have made it easy to keep in contact with those around you. On days that the isolated feeling hits, jump on to one of these platforms and chat it out to some of your friends or family. Being physically distanced can get to our heads sometimes and so it’s vital to stay connected to your loved ones. They’re going through the same emotions and feelings as you so check in with each other.

9. Appreciate, express gratitude and be thankful. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of self-pity during this time. It’s uncertain and scary but there are millions around the world feeling the same emotions. We are lucky if we are able to self-isolate in a healthy, safe and clean environment – it’s a luxury not everybody has. Be grateful for a safe home and for your health above all. If you are isolating with family, express gratitude towards them. If you are alone, be thankful for that precious time you get to spend with yourself. There is always something to be grateful for, sometimes we’ve just got to look a little deeper.

I leave you with a quote from the exquisite Michelle Obama :

“If you do not take control over your time and your life, other people will gobble it up. If you don’t prioritise yourself, you constantly start falling lower and lower on your list.”

Stay safe, stay strong, stay brave.

Abuse & Violence Rates Rise Amid Global Lockdowns

Many countries around the world are in complete lockdown. Millions have been forced to stay at home, self-isolate or socially distance themselves to combat the ongoing threat of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The pandemic is creating an environment of high stress, anxiety and depression for millions of people. It’s taking an economic and social toll. It is also leading to increased rates of domestic violence. In times of crisis or natural disaster, children’s and women’s health and safety are the most severely compromised. In our current situation, this pattern is compounded by limited access to safe centers, shelters and health services.

National lockdowns have exposed many who experience abuse within their homes to danger on a daily basis.

In addition, strict quarantine measures have restricted people’s ability to report abuse. The majority of domestic violence victims are women. However, others such as LGBTQI individuals also face the risk of being abused or thrown out of their homes.

Current statistics show a worldwide surge in the number of reported gender-based violence (GBV) cases. There are increased incidences of domestic abuse and violence being reported from Brazil to China to Germany to the United States. Like the virus itself, this is a global issue.

The South African Police Minister has announced that nearly 90 000 cases of GBV were reported within the first week of the country’s lockdown. Crimes of intimate partner violence, sexual abuse and molestation have been seen to rise in record numbers.

Some countries are coming up with measures to protect and safeguard those in vulnerable circumstances.

In France, some women are being housed in hotels. Pop-up centers have been set up in malls across the country. People can use these centres to report GBV when they go out to buy medication or groceries.

In other countries, helplines have been set up for women to use during this difficult time. In Spain, lockdown conditions have been lifted to allow people experiencing abuse to seek help without being fined. Shelters and safe havens are being created in many other countries as well.

The UN Secretary- General, António Guterres, made an appeal to governments worldwide. He implored them to take the matter of abuse during COVID-19 seriously and to implement structures to support women and vulnerable groups.

During this time, we can all play a role by creating more awareness.

We can reach out to municipalities, governments and NGOs to ask for support and safety measures to be applied in our communities. By doing so, we can better protect those at risk of abuse and violence.