I started on this subject before the invasion of Ukraine and it felt a little frivolous to continue considering the enormity of what is going on now within our European borders.
However, after some reflection, I’ve decided this idea may not be as disconnected as it first seemed.
The life-threatening situation for the poor citizens of Ukraine clearly demonstrate the risks they face.
Those brave people defying President Putin’s invasion and fighting for their liberty and their land are taking a real risk. There is a frightening and growing chance of either being injured or killed and, as borders close up, the opportunity to escape decreases.
We who are safely distant are witnessing a real horror and risk. Some Ukrainians are leaving the safety of their home here and going back to fight for their country. Most of us, however, can only watch and hope. Or pray.
Our lives seem so much more comfortable than compared with the days before the invasion. Our growing worries about net zero costs and how we were going to pay the rising energy bills no longer seem so important.
Even the necessity of finding tens of thousands of pounds to replace a boiler or car to achieve that same net zero goal is paling into insignificance as I wonder if President Putin is serious about nuclear weapon plans.
I’m hoping that what’s going on within my own inner world is not so different from others. I’m imagining we’re all considering putting our petty quarrels to one side as we contemplate and absorb the reality of what calamity our brave friends may be facing.
And yet, when I venture outside my inner world to the world outside, I get the feeling our authorities have not yet grasped what I understand as real risk.
The rules around lockdown – remember that? How so last month it all seems – have been abandoned. Theoretically, we have no need of nose and mouth coverings or written instructions about how much distance we need to maintain between our individual selves.
We can once again open our arms wide and explore the – safe – country around us. We can acknowledge the continuing risk of covid but hope that our vaccinations and boosters will make it less deadly and, in time, it may even disappear altogether.
My journey around London shows me how risk seems to be perceived.
I’m warned to wear a mask on buses and tubes to “protect others” (a clever bit of psychology in case I’m not concerned about protecting me) and told to wash my hands for at least 20 seconds in case of germs.
Careful not to trip up the escalators, “mind the gap” on the tube, keep your distance! Do this, Don’t do that. Travellers holding on to their mask habit avert their eyes from someone who is mask free. They look anxious, their eyes darting nervously from nose to mouth. Are these warnings helping us or are they making life just that bit more frightening?
Of course it makes sense. We have been locked away and scared for almost two years. We have discovered a new illness that was highly infectious and for which there was initially no cure. Who wouldn’t be scared?
But it’s all so obvious too and, some would argue, these are decisions that any adult person would take. Germs pass through contact – wash your hands; cover your mouth if you’re coughing and sneezing and keep your distance. If you’re ill, keep away from others. We knew that before the pandemic so why, I wonder, does it all seem so threatening now.
From a personal point of view, I am concerned that this two-year period has left us as needy and insecure as small children. It’s as though we’ve had our own agency taken away and we’re having to learn to live again from scratch. We already know lockdown has had a damaging effect on children and young people but what about those of us who thought we had left our childhoods way behind us? This in-between stage at the wrong time of life is very unsettling.
Part of the problem may be because politicians and those in authority like it when people do as they’re told. It makes it easier for them if we’re compliant. Rules are habit-forming. If we are forced to stick to them for long enough, they may become second nature for some people.
For others, this just brings up resentment. Take a look at a toddler who wants to do something for themselves as you try to help them. The chances are they will brush your hand away impatiently and continue on their own path. That is as it should be: they are on the path to growing up.
It seems that we presently have this dichotomy between those poor people in Ukraine who have had their safety and security ripped away from them at a terrible and astonishing speed, while those of us lucky enough to be in the UK are almost reluctant to ease ourselves out of our own state-sponsored and comfortable cocoon.
May I politely suggest it’s time we took back control and acknowledged life is a risky business. However, as adults we are perfectly capable of making our own risk assessments. In order to get the best out of life, we need to live it as adults, weighing up the risks and taking our own decisions. Decision making may be hard but life’s more fun that way.