Our first pandemic lock-down came in March. We’d watched with growing alarm as it spread and spread, then suddenly it was upon us.
Shopping. School. Work. Meetings. Socialising. Everything changed.
In those first glum weeks I found solace in the #kindnesspandemic.
It was evidence that what I’d always believed was true: in a crisis, humans step up and take care of each other. In spite of the ineptitude of government action, on the ground people were being resourceful and generous. Keeping step with the pandemic, the random acts of kindness spread and spread.
Months later, I disconnected. The stream of #kindnesspandemic stories became ‘virtue signalling’. Look what I did! (Or how kind is my hubby, child, wife etc…?)
In my crankiness, it occurred to me that these kind actions shouldn’t be special, shouldn’t be called ‘amazing’, or ‘extraordinary’. We should expect kindness from each other — with or without a pandemic.
The way I figure it, Kindness (and its older sibling Co-operation) have kept humanity going for a while now. Why are we suddenly lauding it?
In the midst of all the grimness and in a bid to counteract my growing cynicism, I picked up Rutger Bregman’s Human Kind: a hopeful history.
This is the bit where I’m going to plead with you. I’ll draw on the full strength of missionary zeal that lies concealed in my genetic make-up.
Please read this book. (Full disclosure: Bregman is not paying me. In fact, I’ve bought five copies of his book to give to people. Technically, I’m paying him.)
If you have even the vaguest hunch that humanity can lift its game, read this book. If you’ve had a gutful of humanity’s pessimistic self-fulfilling attitude but don’t know how to shift it, read this book.
I’m not going to review Human Kind for you here. Maybe another day. Or maybe you’ll just have to read it for yourself. Suffice to say, it has helped me see the pandemic as a huge opportunity for our species and the planet.
This pandemic has given us a rare chance to reset so many things. Our lifestyles. Our priorities. The way we work. The way we educate. Our privilege and our poverty. Our relationship to the natural world. And our economies.
We need a shift in perspective, a new way of thinking about things, and a path towards a healthier, viable future for this planet.
I know there have been many people working for decades on this. Academics, philosophers, hippies, story-tellers, artists, environmentalists, and activists…have been pointing out the flaws in our capitalist ways for a long time.
But now economists and politicians are joining them.
A kindness pandemic is simply not enough to instigate the requisite shift for humanity and this precious planet. We need ingenuity, courage, vision, and reason to create a profound shift in our collective mindset.
It’s easy to forget that our current economic system hasn’t always been around. The economic models created in the 1960s relied on an ever-rising line of growth and a cultivated social addiction to mass consumerism.
Economist, Kate Raworth, was way ahead of the ‘pandemic pause’ when she discussed doughnut theory in her 2018 Ted Talk. She couldn’t have known that less than two years later her economic model would gain such recognition.
As Raworth points out: “A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow.”
We’re yet to find out what Raworth calls ‘humanity’s sweet-spot’, but we need to find it quickly.
Exponential growth doesn’t even make sense to economists any more.
We created capitalism…we can create something else. Raworth and Bregman are just two thinkers I’ve come across who have opened my mind to the possibility of a feasible, better way of being. They’ve also made me less frightened of change.
I don’t know about you, but capitalism hasn’t been great for me. It seems to be working for fewer and fewer people — who are making more and more and more money at our expense.
Let’s use our collective focus to find new ways to live and grow. Clean water, clean air, cultivating diversity, and respect for all living things…let these be our baselines.
Also, it turns out I was being churlish about virtue-signalling. Bregman cites studies that show the more we tell people about the kind and good things we’re doing, the more other people are inspired to do them, too.