You have to admit; it really is an incredible time to be alive.
My Grandad flew RAF bombers during the Second World War. And apart from firebombing the innocent women and children of Dresden, it was the most vivid and defining time of his life. Plucked from a working class background in South East London, leaving his country for the first time, and dumped on a ship to Africa to learn to fly, it was unlike anything he had experienced before or since. Although, like any European between 1938-1945, he would have seen immeasurable hardship, until his dying day, he would talk about those times with an element of fondness. And he was not alone.
Without sensationalising the Covid-19 pandemic, I think this may stand as the most collectively defining moment in our lives. Removing personal milestones like the birth of your first child or your first bare-handed strangulation, I’m not sure if we’ll all go through something like this ever again. I certainly haven’t previously. This isn’t just another recession or market crash. During recessions, most of us still trudge into work. We do less at work, but we’re still there, laminating signs and staring at the phone. We spend a year or so envying those in the “cushy” public sector, until, after seeing the first shoots of financial recovery, we get back to making some serious wonga. During a bog-standard recession, we don’t get to see what’s really important. We don’t get to see what we really need to survive on the most basic level.
That is why this is different.
And because this is different, it is not too far-fetched to think the outcomes will be different from past recessions. Firstly, perhaps our idea of a “good job” will change. Covid-19 has shown us that the world is about access. Access to food, access to healthcare, access to power and water, and access to each other and all the above via a cable that runs up your driveway. Anyone working on providing this access is an essential worker. And not just now, forever more. If you can maintain a power line or drive a truck full of food, you now have a “good job”. And hopefully, long may this continue. We’ll also see a large swathe of the workforce never returning to the office. Not because they’re unemployed. No sir. They have just had their “WFH” capability trialed by fire, and have proven to their bosses that they don’t need to be another steel box clogging up the Harbour Bridge to be productive. We’ve long been exponents of remote workers at our sister business JOYN, but this may be the catalyst for the Great Leap Forward in flexible working. And whereas with most recessions, we all resume our usual habits of corporate-ladder climbing and harbour-bridge-clogging after it blows over, this has a very different feel. And a lot of this is based on what is happening outside of the world of work.
Never has a recession coincided with a government mandate to live like Nelson Mandela (the crappy years). Previously, our activities have been limited to the contents of our wallets. Now, we have an enforced time to think. An enforced time to step away from our corporate jobs. An enforced time to clean the car we don’t really own and the house we could never really afford. And I get the gut feeling that many of us are reprioritising.
I was tidying up the bush at the back of my house on Saturday and was startled to find a man doing the same thing. It turns out that this man owns the house that backs onto mine. He’s been there three years – as have I. Warwick is his name. Lovely chap, and I’ve never spoken to the bastard before. This is probably indicative to how most of us live our lives. I walk the dog twice a day at the same time everyday. I put in my headphones, put my head down and off I go. Over the last week, I’ve stopped wearing headphones. Quite simply, I have to pull them out so frequently to talk to strangers (from a safe distance) that it isn’t worth it. The roads are now adorned with soft toys and chalk messages about love, peace, and kindness. In many ways, lockdown is a much nicer world. It’s as if people are starting to figure out what’s important. Families locked up together are actually appreciating each other more, not less. We all have less money (unless you’ve opened Knock-Off Nigel’s PPE Emporium), we all face uncertainty for our jobs, and sadly, some people will become sick or worse, and for now, we all need to go back to a simpler way of life. Those who have complicated their lives with huge property portfolios, expensive schools, and secret love-children will find it very difficult. Those who have always lived within their means, and have a house that is just big enough, and a car that just starts enough, will be the winners in all of this.
As for the future, according to Eggheads it takes, on average 66 days for an action to become an automatic “habit”. If this forced separation from the consumerist society of 2019 is extended, a few of us might just decide we actually quite like it.
Happy whatever-day-it-is. Wash your hands folks.