What if COVID-19 was a social tipping point?

Image by Harper, 6 and Lyle, 5.

What if COVID-19 was a social tipping point? A defining moment in history that saw the global community unite and mobilise to create a more sustainable society where we all thrive.

Humour me for a second. Let’s go forward to the year 2030. COVID-19 is now a thing of the past. It was a hugely challenging time but we learned so much from it. Firstly, we realised that we were not as tied to previous systems as we had once thought. The virus forced to very quickly adapt and find new ways of living. This allowed us to break free from past assumptions and see beyond the supposed constraints of reality. We let go of the idea that ‘there is no alternative’ and new possibilities started to emerge. Many businesses rapidly reorganised their production lines and service models during the outbreak to help play their part. Other business leaders were inspired by this and used the period of economic slowdown as an opportunity to consider their own companies impact on society and the planet. They determined to be better, using the time to implement sustainability and purpose into the heart of their business models. Working from home also became widely acceptable and had a huge impact on our carbon footprint. Companies realised that productivity was just as good, employee well-being was better, and they could save money on rent. More offices offered flexible working and the surplus office space was used for affordable housing for first time buyers and the homeless. Vibrant new inner-city communities emerged, bringing more culture and green spaces to business districts. The pandemic allowed us to see the true value of jobs in society. Since then, we are much more appreciative of our national health systems, our health workers, teachers, grocers, waste disposal teams and other essential workers. Wages are now more reflective of the value people bring to society. We also saw governments across the globe respond and move quickly to battle the virus. Faith was restored in governments and democracy rose. ‘There are no free-market economists in a pandemic’ is now a commonly used phrase. Once the outbreak settled, governments worked with the same efficiency and used the new organisational pathways to tackle other climate and social issues. The period of self isolation also provided the perfect space for society to pause and reflect. We witnessed a shift in values as we realised what was important to us. Physical and mental health were taken seriously, as was the need for connection. Our sense of community strengthened as people started looking out for their neighbours and rallied together to protect their most vulnerable. We used the time to reconnect with family and old friends. Individuals also spent the extra time at home taking up new hobbies. Countless creative projects were started and people felt more fulfilled than they had done in years. The interest in the arts continued to rise, fuelling a modern-day renaissance. Despite the disruption and devastation of the virus, society is now much more mentally resilient. In addition, while all the shops were shut, people stopped buying new clothes. We rediscovered and fell back in love with our old wardrobes, learning how to rework and repair outfits. We started trading with neighbours and this kickstarted our local, second-hand economies. Our sense of global community strengthened during this time too. Despite the fact that countries closed borders for a period, the homogeneity and interconnectedness of humanity became undeniable in the face of a global threat. Divisions between class, race, religion or national identity seemed trivial. Finally, we learnt the incredible resolve of the human spirit. *** The best part of this is that hardly any of the above is fantasy and nothing is beyond our reach. COVID-19 has been devastating for so many families and my heart goes out to every one. By no means do I mean to downplay the gravity of the situation, but it does gives me hope that we’re already seeing some incredible changes within society - changes that would have seemed inconceivable just a few weeks ago. It strikes me that this is a rare opportunity for us to collectively pause and reflect on the world we want to return to. What makes a good life? Which parts of society do we want to nurture? How can we ensure the needs of every single person are met and cared for? The future only exists within our imagination but it’s often much easier for us to imagine dystopias. We can become paralysed by fear and nihilism and this unfortunately can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. During times of high anxiety, focusing on hopeful and exciting possibilities can be a great antidote. Not only is this better for our mental health, it’s crucial if the future we want is ever going to become a reality. So, what is the future you choose? Let’s share good ideas and possibilities, and then make them happen.