Maybe all of this happened to force us to consider. Consider our relationships, consider our environment, consider our finances, consider our grandparents, consider our neighbours, consider our children. For three generations we have lived and thrived on the disposable nature of life, lacking consideration for anyone other than ourselves.
Our parents (well, if you are in Gen X) and grandparents were stoic and frugal – saving and buying with money they had -(well not my parents who could spend a hole in a million US dollars the second the check cleared). They didn’t replace things, they repaired them, living safely within their means. Whilst Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation may lack the ego of Millennials and Gen Z, they more than made up for in perseverance, fortitude and resilience. They are the definition of “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
The Silent Generation lived through a war which brought great displacement, death and loss, rations and immeasurable psychological torture. They ushered in the Baby Boomers who were driven to rise out of post-war poverty and carried on the resourcefulness of their parents. They planned, saved and blossomed as a result of hard work.
Starting with Generation X, at least in the west, we became complacent and spoiled. Our parents hadn’t been through a war, they simply went to work and provided for us beyond imagination – trips to Disney World and wonderful toys to make up for the more stringent childhoods they had. Gen X was independent because they were the last of the latch key kids – able to go home alone, prepare dinner and do homework without the monitoring of parents.
With each generation after Gen X, our value of community and people decreased and our value of things, especially disposable things increased. Our obsession with image proliferated as technology disguised as social crept into every aspect of our lives. Likes became important and mental health seemingly deteriorated overnight (this is where I acknowledge that mental health was probably on the decline for many but we weren’t able to openly express our feelings until the Millennials forced us to – this is a good thing), and our abilities to tackle problems physically and in-person went out the door.
We didn’t need to keep fit for war, war was a mythical creature that existed in far away lands with names ending in khan. War wasn’t in our lands and therefore an intangible that we couldn’t relate to. We started observing the world from our couches, beds, home offices – online. This virtual world felt safe. And whenever there was threat of conflict in our countries, we made jokes and memes from the safety of our homes. We didn’t have to care for 8.2 million Vietnam vets returning with mental and physical impediments. We saw the less than 1 million gulf war vets return on television but very few of us were impacted.
Why this muddled history lesson? Because our virtual realities have collectively built a false safety net around us and our families. We lack and lacked the basic skills to survive disruption, never thinking it would happen to us because we make memes about danger but never encounter it, never confront it. We present ourselves with a pristine veneer when actually there are only a minority of us mentally and physically prepared for the challenge that lay ahead. We didn’t expect our grocery stores to run out of toilet paper because pandemics impact Africa and Asia, you know the countries we donate money to?
Our hashtag of #firstworldproblems, a proud badge of our privilege, was really our biggest weakness and the butt of all jokes in supposed third world countries that are successfully battling this pandemic. We boasted in our complacency, in our inability to relate to our fellow humans in India who are on lockdown and don’t even have a 1% infection rate. Us, with our nice homes, expensive cars and finery, we are untouchable with our pounds and dollars. Our worries are what restaurant we will dine in tonight, what lavish gifts we will shower our daughters with at their Sweet Sixteens, what sneakers we will fight each other to get when they drop.
Now our first world problems have miraculously evaporated. We have been forced to consider our grannies we didn’t visit enough. Our eyebrows are bushy because we don’t a VIP party to attend. We have been forced to consider our health – we aren’t buying flat tummy tea when what we really need is more vegetables. We are being forced to know and engage with our neighbours, ensuring their health and safety. We appreciate our spouses and the love they have always been willing to give us. Who wants to share their last breaths with their mistress or fancy man? Our selfie to reflection ratio as reduced as we spend time with ourselves, our true selves.
I predict that we come out of this with more compassion – for lesser and differently abled, for those in our shops, those in our healthcare. We will feel the value of what and who we have in our lives, no longer opting to upgrade or replace but to repair our rough patches. Our consideration will only strengthen the next generation our babies we currently cradle close to our chests. Our survival depends on our ability to breathe, pause, to consider.