The first eight months of this year have been some of the most disruptive I have ever known.  Perhaps predictably this period of transition out of Covid has thrown up all sorts of problems and stresses.  This is a period of readjustment after a massive common event, though not a shared one. 

Many people are still working incredibly hard, leading to online debate about whether mass staff burnout is imminent. Some are still getting ill and others are struggling, faced with uncertainties, unsure how to adapt, frustrated or on the sharp end of a latent anger at covid and restrictions and well everything (I do wonder if the public response from some is a grief response).  Many are trying to get out and enjoy their renewed freedoms, leading to a larger proportion of people being away than I can ever remember. Some have taken the opportunity to reconsider their career, or their retirement.  Some are still awkwardly caught between various forms of hybrid working.  And others have returned to jobs from ‘Covid emergency’ roles of various kinds and are now playing catch-up.

It’s not been easy getting people to convene, let alone to make things happen, and that’s without the backdrop of war, travel disruption, Brexit inspired staff shortages, severe strains on public budgets, striking workers and rising food and energy prices. It does all feel quite relentless.  We are all worried about the spiralling cost of living crisis, and many (especially those still in work) are realising their pension provision is probably inadequate. 

My sense is that we are all simply full to the teeth with bad news and desperate for real positivity, clear leadership and a reversal of fortunes.  Of course we need to tackle the cost of living crisis, but we need to do more than that.  We could all do with something to look forward to – a coming together – a rebuilding of confidence, tolerance and trust.  Some joy and optimism.  

I have met so many people from all sorts of sectors across society who report being really, really busy but not entirely sure what they’ve achieved, and are struggling with burn-out, and, I sense, beating themselves up for what they haven’t managed to do, personally or professionally.  As a result I find myself wanting to caution them, to go easy, to not beat yourselves up about what hasn’t happened yet.  Because it has been a remarkably odd period.  In many ways it feels to me like the last 2 years don’t count.  Although plenty has happened, it all feels a bit of a blur and indistinct.  Maybe, for now at least, its simply okay to have got through it. Only now do I think we are beginning to get enough distance from it all to actually look ahead again.

We’re all struggling as far as I can tell.  So my first response to all of this is that we each need to be kind to ourselves…  This has been a genuinely exceptional period, so there is no point being over critical, angry or overly frustrated – it was outwith all of our control.   Sometimes life blows us off course. 

Secondly, I think we need to remember to be kind to those around us.  I don’t think anyone really knows quite how to respond right now, or exactly what the right thing to do is.  Some people want to stay at home, others to wear masks, others to flaunt all rules and party.  There is no one response.  I think we need to respect other people’s uncertainties and anxieties, and let them work out how to emerge in their own way.  Shouting at people for still wearing masks is hardly going to encourage anxious people to trust to the sensible and empathetic public more than they already are. It is also disrespectful of people who have had to man the ‘front line’ throughout this crisis. 

It is heart-breaking to hear of members of the public losing the plot with medical staff or people who work in public facing roles like bus drivers or staff in the performing arts, as I keep hearing.  None of this is their fault.   How did some people go from clapping our appreciation from a distance to shouting at them, now we are allowed back?

Thirdly I would like to encourage people to be forgiving of each other.  Covid was a huge shock to the fabric of our society – and whilst it was a common experience, it was not a shared one – if anything it was isolating.  I was never good on social calls on zoom, and therefore found covid quite isolating.  I feel I am almost having to re-learn the art of conversation, especially small talk (never a strong point) and I’m bemused at the increased quiet spells I find in group conversation which I never remember being so frequent or awkward before covid.  I feel a need to seek out ‘shared’ moments again.  It’s going to take time.

And finally, I would encourage people to demand better.  We have had to watch as our political leaders tried to pick their way through one of the most difficult periods in recent memory.  Most though, obsessed with ideology, failed to respond quickly or adequately to the covid pandemic, and are also failing to respond to the negative impact of Brexit and the Ukraine war, or to the cost of living crisis, leaving most of us far worse off economically, socially and environmentally than at any point I can remember. 

The short-term problems of cost of living and resource scarcity, and the longer-term problems facing all of us, like climate change, biodiversity loss, geopolitical realities and major social inequalities, really demand some grown up responses and urgent action.  With the right vision and leadership, taking responsibility and promoting empathy, altruism, collaboration and community cohesion, we can actually go some way to solve both the climate emergency and the cost of living crisis.