By Lim Xiang Min
I haven’t been coping very well recently.
When Singapore raised the Dorscon level to orange, I ignorantly thought I was so unaffected. I failed to realise that constant negative news coverage and pessimistic public discourse affects you. Oh haha, who would have thought right?
When I actively turn away from the news, I feel guilt and a building nervousness about being in the dark. I know I have thoughts I am not processing. There is information I am missing. We all know that nagging feeling of a weighing “should” that you tell yourself. I should make sense of the situation. What if a Bill is passed and I don’t know? What are the numbers?
I have an obligation to stay informed, right?
This was the mental stalemate I am in. I want to run away and hide. But that doesn’t seem very socially responsible. Okay, how about if I face it head on?
So I read the news. I gather all my thoughts. When I actually process what is going on, I get depressed with the state of the world.
Some Moral Thoughts regarding The Situation™ :
- The virus is not an equaliser because it does not affect all communities equally.
- Not everyone’s job can be done remotely.
- Not everyone has the financial flexibility to take time off work.
- The homeless do not have a place to quarantine.
- The home is not a safe space for the victims of domestic abuse.
Our frontline workers have to risk their (and their families’) health or sacrifice not being able to go back to their families.
- Healthcare workers have to ration out masks and other protective equipment due to poor resource management.
- Are wages reflective of how essential services are?
- Migrant workers are treated unfairly.
- Access to tests (mainly in the US) is based on personal wealth and not priority.
- Regarding isolation and social distancing: how to measure an individual’s mental health against public health risks?
- Panic buying.
- People flouting their Stay-Home-Notice or not practising safe distancing.
- Racist acts towards Asians are on the rise.
- Non-essential online shopping is putting warehouse packers and delivery people at risk.
- Decreased access to school facilities means a weakened equalising effect for students.
- A lot of people are dying.
This is by no means, an exhaustive list. And that’s the real problem, isn’t it?
There were already pre-existing cracks in the system. People always fell through. This pandemic makes those cracks and other ugly facets glaringly obvious. For example, racism was always present, this is simply another opportunity for racists to out themselves. We cannot conveniently look away anymore. Because the stakes are raised and it becomes a matter of life-and-death.
I know I am privileged. This situation only highlights this truth. In fact, this situation just shows how I am sometimes at a loss with what to do with it. I am privileged enough to be able to distance myself from such issues when it feels too much. The knowledge that this is a lot of people’s everyday reality is overwhelming. How can anyone with empathy not feel distressed?
There are so many avenues to help, and so many causes to contribute towards.
(Here is a compilation of useful links, if you need direction or somehow missed all the donation compilations on social media.)
I want to help but how do you decide which cause is most worthy of aid? Do I split the money across as many causes or focus on one? Do I support a local business? Maybe financial donation is not even the most efficient or helpful?
Maybe it is the paradox of choice, mingled with peer pressure via virtue signalling on Instagram. There are so many normative routes you can go down, so many ways you can cut up and analyse the situation. There are group moralities being enforced, individuals using moral language. There is also an uncomfortable ease regarding online public shaming.
It is a confusing time for a moral being.
Now, this isn’t the end of my thoughts unfortunately. One looming thought remains: How can I justify focusing on my individual experience, in a time of global crisis?
Is all this worth saying, or am I just adding to the noise? Am I, by writing this article, inadvertently also virtue-signalling?
Ethics of the whole situation aside, I also wondered if I am alone in feeling this way. If I cannot figure out what to do, then perhaps at least I can understand why I feel so lost. Assuming everyone feels terrible, is there a coherent, succinct explanation as to why we feel this way? In sTuDeNt SpEaK, is there a theory that best explains our collective behaviour and perception of this issue?
One way I’ve tried to justify how I’m feeling and coping is by recognising we are living through a traumatic event.
Trauma can be defined as, “too much, too fast, too soon”. From the infallible source, Wikipedia, collective trauma is described as a traumatic psychological effect shared by a group of people. It can stir up collective sentiment, often resulting in a shift in that society’s culture and mass actions. Examples of collective trauma include 9-11 and slavery. A global pandemic fits right in that list, right? (Haha, I nervously laugh a humorless laugh.)
It is okay to feel overwhelmed. And it is okay to not be a cog in a capitalist society and base our self-worth in terms of productivity in times like this.
Trauma is paradoxically, a great opportunity for growth and humanity.
I think we will come out of this month having learnt more about ourselves. I think we will practise self-compassion and form healthier coping mechanisms. I hope when all this is over, our society will be more resilient, in terms of social fabric and economically. In order to achieve that, we have to remember the gaps that are being pointed out to us now. Remember that these consequences are results of peacetime inadequacies and we need to commit to taking action to fix those. Perhaps this is an expensive, painful, but necessary lesson for Singapore to learn.
There are also stories of generosity and kindness from all over the world. People using their 3D printers to make life-saving ventilators. Genius! Heartwarming stories of people paying it forward, or helping the eldery buy groceries. The sheer tenacity of our frontline workers and “healthcare heroes“ who keep us going. There is plenty of good, if you just look. I think focusing on the good is not the whole solution though. We cannot say “thank goodness for all this” and pretend the inequalities don’t exist. Practising gratitude is (basic human decency and) a good coping mechanism, but it is not the end.
Everything is incredibly nuanced and has to be thought through. The duality of this situation is mind boggling. Everyone is trying to juggle feelings, mentalities and instructions. It is like a precarious tightrope, no wonder why we are all high-strung. I can mourn what I lost while recognising others have it worse. I can be informed yet limit my intake of news reports. I can feel distressed but also hopeful.
We can be heartbroken at the situation and at the same time, appreciate the beauty of the humanity we witness.
But I can also admit that the beauty is not enough to make everything okay.
Top image via Gabriele Galimberti, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Main photograph credit
Virus disportionately affected poor communities
Virus disportionately affecting African American communities
Virus disportionately affecting the incarcerated
Virus disportionately affecting vulnerable women in Singapore, including domestic violence
COVID-19 reality for the homeless
Who cannot afford to stay home
Who cannot work from home
Access to tests in the USA
Lack of protective gear
Migrant workers living conditions in SG
SG not social distancing