Infecting one another with love

Infecting one another with love
The Bishop of Tonbridge

There is nothing to fear except fear itself, said Franklin D Roosevelt. Some people have added humorously to this – there is nothing to fear except fear itself – and spiders / flying / dental treatment / marmite sandwiches. We feed off the fears of others, so it’s no wonder coronavirus can be added seriously to this list. But fear divides us, and we cannot afford this today.

Lots of research is helping us to see how socially contagious we are. That’s the thing about a virus. By necessarily distancing ourselves from one another, we help to stop the spread of disease but if we’re not careful, find we’re not ‘infecting’ people with all the good things that make up our relationships. Social distancing is important; social isolation is painful.

For a period, the way we live and relate are being shaken up. All we take for granted has gone, and we have to piece our relationships together another way. Thank God for new technologies which allow virtual contact. Those who are wired will figure it out – it’s only an extension of what they’re doing anyway. But it’s easy to forget those who aren’t in the chat room because they were never there in the first place.

The measure of a community is how well it embraces its most marginalised. Those who are older and poorer are most at risk of losing out socially. And the health implications of loneliness and poverty are well documented. So, as we temporarily build a new social architecture, we need to create living space for the most vulnerable.

If we’re anxious about spreading germs, just picking up a phone to ask how someone living alone is coping is one way of ‘infecting’ them with love. Crises can bring the best out in people, and we could perversely strengthen our community more at the very moment we are socially distancing. But it could easily go the other way, unless we’re intentional about this.

Fear is driven by many factors, but no virus has ever trended like this one. The ubiquity and volume of information – not all of it true in any case – has bewildered people and made them more anxious. Education liberates. But too much attention to bad news scares people. A case for a bit of media isolating, perhaps?

As the US civil rights activist Rosa Parks said: “Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” As we attend to the right things – caring for our households, but not panicking in a way that disadvantages others, cleanly reaching out to the most isolated, avoiding contagious fear – we build the community we all want and believe in.

No one expected to start the twenties this way. How we respond now will likely define this decade.

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