Things look bleak at the moment, don’t they? The Coronavirus is changing everything we take for granted, work, home, our very way of life but we’ve faced similar challenges before and surprisingly we’ve evolved and even prospered in the face of adversity.
Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not dismissing or making light of, the deadly serious situation we face in the next few weeks and months; it’s horrible but, whilst recognising that, I’m looking for positives too, from the media and from history.
Another horribly destructive pandemic, The Black Death (1347-1350) decimated populations in Europe. This plague recurred many times between the 14th and 17th Centuries. In 1606, Shakespeare, in the midst of the Black Death, put himself into a period of self-isolation much like we’re doing now. In that time, he wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, all within a single year.
*image credit = britannica.com
Fast forward to 1665, in the wake of another onset of the plague, Cambridge University shut its doors, forcing Isaac Newton to work from home. Whether or not the apple falling from a tree is true or myth he still came up with the law of Universal Gravitation (the most important scientific leap forward since Kepler) and he did much of the work later published in Principia.
*image credit = laphamsquarterly.org
The Black Death pandemics are also directly attributed to the end of Feudalism. The sheer magnitude of the epidemic meant that the workforce was so depleted that surviving workers were able to demand increased wages in the form of hard cash, rather than the traditional payment in kind for their services. For the first time in English history the peasant workers were able to directly influence their terms and conditions due to the scarcity of labour, which was a game changer we still benefit from today.
These windows into the past echo what we are experiencing right now and hopefully inspire some optimism for the future.
Coronavirus is affecting the everyday lives of billions across the world now, but it may also change things for good. Current events might just demonstrate that remote working and technology can improve quality of life for people everywhere without decreasing productivity. Reduced commutes and a more balanced work life may have both environmental and well-being benefits. I do hope we can get back to the pub soon though because as good as virtual things go, there’s no real substitute for that.
It’s also clear that the typically British traits of community spirit and ‘pulling together’ when times get exceptionally hard are making a very, very welcome return. In only a short space of time some remarkable acts of generosity are taking place with a few examples being:
- Two Leeds business owners have launched We Care Leeds, donating free care packages to those on low incomes or those over 70.
*image credit: Yorkshire Evening Post
- A local hot food business has launched a free service to drop off fresh hot meals within Leeds. The pair are planning to team up with a local Thai restaurant, which will cook and deliver a weekly supply of stew and soup to the elderly.
*image credit: Yorkshire Evening Post
- A Taxi firm in West Yorkshire has been providing a free taxi service to local supermarkets for the elderly in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
- The ex-footballer and Sky Sports Pundit Gary Neville has made both his hotels available to the NHS for extra bed space whilst committing to his staff that their jobs are secure, and they will be paid in full.
*image credit: BBC
- Across the country people are using social media to form local groups caring for elderly and vulnerable.
Many of us are too young to recall ‘Blitz Spirit’ but it seems to be making a comeback and that can only be a good thing. This time around it has the extra power of social technology.
I’ll hand the conclusion of this thought to one of the most celebrated leaders in our history, renowned for optimism and courage in the face of adversity - “An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” - Winston Churchill.