FRENCH LEAVE

By: Stuart White 20-03-2020

Categories:HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White,

You can’t not write about Corona virus because it is at the centre of our current world. The problem,  however, is trying to stay on top of it and having an informed and rational opinion when all the parts are moving so fast: infections rates, what we know about it, potential vaccines, how we view it and react to it. I can only write from where I sit.


I feel a conundrum as I search for my position in this uncertain time. Do I believe that this could be the worst thing ever to have occurred in my lifetime? Do I fear that what is happening is apocalyptic, a word I am only familiar with because of the countless sci-fi movies I have watched mirroring this very happening? I feel the need for a concrete point of view as if having that will make me feel cemented in certainty and security - I don’t have one. 


The only thing that I can compare this to is the 2008 financial crash because that’s what I have experienced in terms of uncertainty and am able to understand such volatility, albeit from more of a financial perspective. Before you accuse me of shallow thinking it is not only because many people will lose savings as industry grinds almost to a halt and recession hits but because of the impact on the vulnerable and poor; unemployment will rise, poverty will increase and more people will in all likelihood die of the resultant starvation and neglect than from COVID-19 itself. So, the real threat becomes the secondary killer – economics - which will have more impact if the measurement is human life.


Such hard-hitting, negative talk! But it’s only speculation anyway because I have no way of knowing any of this. Surely, I should opt for feeding positive thoughts? Reminding myself that I can’t change what happens to me, only my response to it. This is a far better option than resisting reality and responding with fear? Perhaps the only important consideration at the moment is psychological survival? Where am I with this thing – as my positive psychologist colleague said to me yesterday ‘how is your level of wellbeing? 


Well, as I write this i am mired, figuratively and literally. I am in France. The whole country is in lock down so you are not allowed from your home unless for work (if you can’t work remotely you must have a letter of employer corroboration ready to show to the police on demand), medical reasons and visits to grocery shops for provisions are allowed but long queues an the limited numbers of people who can go inside at any time – staying one metre apart – are deterrent enough in  themselves to venture  out.  If not, fines of over P1000 for those caught without a justified reason are forcing compliance on would-be miscreants. It is claustrophobically like nothing I have experienced before. I have lost my freedom of choice – it feels like a big loss, to have someone else controlling my movement but I am compliant in my understanding.


Do you know what I think is worse than the imprisonment and the adverse  health and economic consequences?  Fear! It’s palpable here and so it feels more like 9/11 than 2008. I am not seeing people singing on balconies to raise spirits, like video clips you might have caught on social media. Such scenes, supposedly reminiscent of the Blitz spirit in wartime London, are, I suspect, rare moments which belie the seriousness of it all and the worry people feel. People are scared and anxious here and for the most part taking the social restrictions seriously. To be honest here in Europe I think it’s more anxiety than fear and that is an important distinction.


Fear is an instant response to immediate danger - we are all washing hands, keeping our distance, staying home. Anxiety is what is playing out in our minds and psyche - an exercise in imagination which flourishes in uncertainty and many people are imagining the worst! 


I don’t know how serious it will become in Africa or if we will ever start to feel it like in Europe. The pundits predict it will be as bad so some thoughts going forward: 


We aren’t the scientists who can solve this or a higher power that can make it miraculously disappear. As with all things when we take them into our circle of influence and work with that, it may make us feel more prepared and able to cope;  It’s about taking care of yourself inside and out and working on what you can:
•    Obviously take all the precautions which we know about
•    If you don’t eat healthy meals and take supplements, start now.
•    Don’t have meditation practise? Time to try it
•    Isolated or feeling alone, anxious or depressed? Feel deeply into it, notice it and get curious about it. Time for growth
•    Think outside the box even if you feel like you are in a box...what can your business do – not what it can’t do.
•    Don’t buy into the fear and anxiety; it’s likely to kill you before the virus does.


The real goal here is not to sink into lethargy or malaise but to use the time as a springboard to motivation. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade comes to mind.  Because, really, that’s the only option. You may have seen this Kitty O’Miara quote that went viral on social media which I think is an inspiring way to look at it all.


“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.


And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. 


And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”


Bon courage!