My dilemma of today doesn’t have much to do with the announcement we were all waiting for at 3pm – cake or death; I mean, do we get minor degrees of increased freedom vs more lockdown. It already seems almost passé that those of us south of Auckland now count down the days till next Wednesday (4, for anyone mathematically challenged) while Auckland will certainly have to include toes in its countdown process and, hopefully won’t need to mutate a few extra toes to count its lockdown days.
Announcement done and dusted, today’s dilemma for me relates to a Zoom birthday celebration that we attended last night. There was a large group of people in attendance on the Zoom, none of whom read this blog, as far as I know. Some of the Zoomites I know well, some I know peripherally, some I don’t know at all. The birthday person had trouble with audio – isn’t it the nature of large Zoom calls to have at least some proportion of the attendees having issues with sound or pictures? So, although we could see the person, they couldn’t hear us and we couldn’t hear them.
Banter ensued over the likelihood that the birthday person was breaking bubbles left, right and centre. I knew that the person already had gone outside the Level 4 guidelines (in a place where there was a definite risk of transmission of COVID-19), and that they are a person who is likely to ignore the Level 4 rules. We all have different approaches to rules and we need a diversity of behaviours, because not all rules make sense or are good. Frankly, I am not so bothered by rules myself, I am bothered by the intent behind the rule. Does the intent represent or protect something important and, if it does, is one achieving that intent by acting in accordance with the rule? In the end, if one wants a society that isn’t on a trajectory to anarchy, a set of rules is required and people at least seeming to generally behave in accordance with those rules.
I felt upset and uncomfortable about the banter. Yes, the statements were likely to be correct about the person’s behaviour, but why were people laughing about it, effectively encouraging poor behaviour in the poor actor and encouraging it within the group. However, a group where you are not sure of your footing is a risky scenario in which to speak your mind, so I didn’t. The most significant reason for staying quiet is that you aren’t going to achieve any useful purpose by speaking out. So I just stayed out of the banter until it moved onto different topics.
I could point out here that I am not one to shy away from speaking my mind when I think it is important; anyone who knows me won’t be surprised by that statement. A long time ago in Wellington, I saw a man beating up a woman on the pavement at night. I was walking with my partner, but it was me who went straight across the road saying, ‘Stop doing that!’. I thought I would be safer saying it than a male – males tend to attack males more than females. The man stopped what he was doing and the woman ran down the road. The man turned towards me, came up close (within 20cm of my face) and said “Do you want to fight?”. “No” I said (what else was I going to say?!). “Hmmpphh” he said, and backed down. I don’t know if I achieved much, but I believe I did the right thing in interceding; at the very least the woman escaped the situation at that moment and saw that someone else cared.
It took 30 minutes last night for the birthday person to get their audio fixed, requiring the assistance of other Zoom attendees. When the birthday person came online, almost the first thing they told us (after showing us the chocolate birthday cake they had cooked and how its icing was no mush because the candles had burned down half an hour ago), was how they had ignored bubble rules during the day. This isn’t surprising – people act up to what their friends expect of them, and this can go well or it can go badly. I don’t know how often in life we are all guilty of helping trap someone in behaviour that they would actually rather escape. Everyone continued to laugh and joke, everyone of course being in a similar situation to me – this wasn’t the forum in which to easily say “That’s a bad idea”. The Zoom meandered and then maundered on and I could finally escape. But I didn’t manage to escape my thoughts.
Today I decided to take (minor) action and comment on the WhatsApp group that everyone attending last night’s Zoom belongs to. The risk I take is that I get evicted, the potential gain is…that people take a little pause and think about how their actions drive others to, and encourage them in, poor behaviour. The greatest likelihood is that my comment makes people feel uncomfortable and they all ignore the comment.
I don’t imagine any of us want this lockdown going on longer than it has to. I think of my mother’s elderly friend who fell and hurt herself, and is now confused in Christchurch Hospital, being told a different thing every day by staff who cannot figure out whether she can be sent to respite care, or will be sent to struggle alone at home. No-one can visit her in hospital, or act as her advocate. She isn’t seriously ill, though is quite incapacitated, in pain and now mentally struggling.
There will be thousands of such stories, of people who are suffering because our ability to interact with others is limited as a result of lockdown. Is going to the house of friends on your birthday to have a drink with them so important that it overrides perpetuating and expanding those stories? Should we be encouraging others in those actions? I guess I will find out what the WhatsApp group’s answer to my questions are.