On coronavirus and keeping your faith in humanity

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” 

American childrens’ TV host Fred Rogers

Dearest humans,

Since I last wrote to you, the world has entered a strange new period. I won’t harp on about coronavirus, because we’re already saturated with corona-content, but one of the things which makes me sad about a ‘challenging and unprecedented time’ such as this is how quickly it can erode our trust and belief in our fellow humans. We can lose faith in our neighbour in as short a time as it takes to stockpile toilet rolls. Come on, people, cut it out!

I get it. Fear and uncertainty are extremely powerful emotions. Deep within our evolutionary lizard brain, we’re programmed to seek safety and security for ourselves and those in our pack.

But I don’t want to fall into that ‘every woman for herself’ mindset. Firstly because it can only lead to a race to the bottom, reinforcing selfish behaviours and attitudes, but secondly because I don’t want to think of my neighbour that way. So the mantra I have decided upon to help me navigate this time is ‘humans are fundamentally good at heart’.

You may think this should be easy. Easier than more traditional articles of faith, such as believing in an almighty god you cannot see, or the power of Jesus to perform miracles. But sometimes the belief that people are good at heart is challenging enough. Psychology tells us that whatever you believe will be reinforced to you. That’s called confirmation bias. And in a time when people are snatching loo rolls and disregarding public health guidance, you don’t have to look far to see behaviours which could reinforce your belief that people are as selfish as they are stupid.

This is why believing that ‘humans are fundamentally good at heart’ is an act of blind faith. To believe that humans are more good than bad, can be very challenging at the most stable of times. But this little plié of faith is carrying me through.

So today, I invite you to look for the helpers. See the way communities are taking care of the vulnerable. Screengrab a fun moment from your FaceTime with your mother’s ear. And if you can’t see a shred of good to reinforce your belief, BE the helper. You’re a human, aren’t you? If you can choose to show compassion and loving kindness right now, it kind of proves your belief to be true. That’s a miracle in itself.

Eight ways to be the helper (leave your own ideas in the comments):

  1. Unless you’re a key worker, STAY AT HOME. It really is the most direct way you can help
  2. Donate £5 to the first charity which asks you for money specifically to help them through this period. I started with the Samaritans, who are supporting a lot of people who are struggling with isolation during this time
  3. Check to see if your local community has a mailing list for volunteers who can help local people in need
  4. Buy a thoughtful gift for someone else (or yourself) from a freelance/independent creative or shop to support them while their income is unstable. If you’re not sure where to start, try Etsy
  5. Call or FaceTime with a friend or family member you think might be struggling
  6. Leave flowers on your neighbour’s doorstep
  7. Draw or paint a poster with a friendly message and put it up on your window where passers-by can see it
  8. Write a letter of thanks to your local hospital staff

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