Strategies of Hope

Cup of Hope
Cup of Hope

The pandemic’s distancing regulations have a strange effect: turning companions into strangers. We are not powerless and do not have to let this happen!

Let us check the Latin dictionary: the word ‘socius’ actually means ‘companion’ and ‘social’ refers to the connectedness between people, sharing community spirit.

A remarkable characteristic of the Covid-19 pandemic ideology is the naming of the human contact-safety behaviour as ‘social distancing’. For sure keeping apart, avoiding gatherings, hugs, handshakes and touch, sanitizing, wearing masks, speaking through a shield – are all foremost physical acts. They are not social as such. We can feel close to someone far away and completely disconnected from someone sitting next to us. Two metre’s distance between individuals measures space – not the social quality of their contact or relationship. As a matter of fact ‘social distancing’ is a misnomer.

Ideologies have a strategic purpose by naming and thus creating an interpretation of reality that suits their cause.

What could it be in this case?

It is a very insidious strategy to represent physical behaviour as social behaviour. It is an untruth.  It casts doubts about the sincerity with which the pandemic revolution is being managed. It raises questions about its ultimate goals. What are the managing agents of the epidemic trying to achieve? Who are the real managing agents after all?

Medicalizing the caution and fear for physical human contact introduces an anti-social climate.

In many social milieus in SA stigmatizing people testing positive with Covid-19 is in full swing.  It echoes what happened with the Aids pandemic. Communities shunning and harassing someone for testing positive. Shouting at and cursing the sick person. Walking in a wide circle around and away from them.

‘I was treated like a criminal,’ a courageous Covid-19 survivor, mother of 3, living in Langa, reported.  ‘Neighbours did not want to assist with the children even if they test negative.’ ‘The police make it worse with putting that tape around my house.’ Her children had to be quarantined along with her until doctors intervened and isolated the family in a facility.

This outspoken mother pleads: ‘I would like to ask the people to please work together with the people who are tested positive for Covid-19, not to treat them like strangers.’ Describing the situation thus, she highlights how in her community the epidemic is presented and interpreted. The fear of contact turns neighbours and family into potentially dangerous threats to one’s safety. This fear frays the social networks in many communities.

Setting rules that make it difficult or impossible for citizens to look after each other but making everyone reliant on healthcare systems and workers who cannot cope instead, obstructs the willing efforts to help each other. The added fear factor makes it worse when neighbours and families start to ostracize all and anyone in their midst who are sick and assumed to be Covid-infected.

But the impact of the many compulsory regulations is also felt deeply in circles where normally the spirit of charity prevails. Many people have already expressed that the physically distant contact and having no access each other ‘does not feel natural’. ‘The restrictions are estranging us from normal relationships with family, co-workers and friends.’ ‘ What kind of humans are we if companionship is taken away, and affectionate gestures expressing love and care are endangering us?’ ‘What endangers us most?’ Such are prevailing reflections and emotions voiced by many.

The terminology of ‘social’ distancing confuses matters.

Keeping apart, dreading contact, saniziting or avoiding human touch, communicating with masked faces and muffled voices are anti-social behaviours. Yet they are presented as the correct social behaviours of distancing. Not adhering to these rules is called egoistic – even criminal. In other words what would be normally seen as anti-social behaviour is reframed as being “socially correct”.

This is a reverse of the essence of what is social. Insidious ideology to say the least. No wonder we are confused.

This confusion is an obvious breeding ground for conspiracy theories. They flourish in this confusion. Speculations about causality and motives, about the integrity of others, mixed with a juggle of statistics… and the obvious suspicion arises about the hidden agenda of those who exploit the situation. Confuse and subdue. Setting people up as strangers and enemies to each other is the age-old policy. The caesars of old – as well as the architects of apartheid – built their empires on ‘divide and rule.’ Putting boundaries and policed regulations between people makes strangers out of companions.  To encourage the reporting of suspected Covid cases is a mean strategy forging animosity.

Do we have to accept this as “the new normal”? In my view we don’t.

In my view, though we do not know what the future holds, we can influence it. By holding on fast to the core value of being social human beings with concern and care that go beyond our selves for the greater good. Across all barriers and divides, across all the divisions of cultural and racial diversity. Looking for solutions to activate our networks. Putting the quality of our relationships first. Making the effort to engage, taking the initiative. Strengthening our belief that hope is more powerful than fear. Many people already do that. Many people match their hope with acts of kindness. The stream of positive South African stories in #ImStaying testify to the power of social will.