IN the middle of a pandemic, it’s hard not to feel scared.
Since coronavirus became part of our lives in March, none of us has been able to escape this affliction of unease.
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But it’s a difficult mood to unpick. What exactly are we scared of?
Yes, the virus can have devastating consequences. But does being afraid really help?
We know it’s going to be with us for some time, so we need to learn to live with it.
But instead, fear is holding us hostage and stopping us moving forward.
The Government has tried to calm our fears — ordering masks to be worn in most indoor spaces.
They want to show us we have nothing to be scared of, but the masks are actually a constant reminder that there is.
It won’t make people feel safer — it will make them more afraid.
Back in 1997, I developed the concept of the Culture of Fear.
I argued that those of us who live in a modern Western society enjoy unprecedented levels of personal safety.
But far from making us less fearful it made us more anxious.
We started obsessing over theoretical risks — from GM foods to the health dangers of mobile phones — and this distracted us from dealing with the things we could do something about.
Fear has become a free-floating sensibility, detached from a specific form of threat.
Whereas in previous times people’s fears were focused on a unique threat to their life — a famine, mass unemployment, nuclear war — in recent times this emotion has acquired a more unstable and arbitrary character.
That is why, today, in the midst of a global emergency, we do not simply fear the coronavirus but also perceive a bewildering variety of issues as threats.
Once fear acquires a free-floating character, our lives indoors can appear no less threatening than in the outside world.
Concerns are continually expressed about the mental health impact of the lockdown, especially on children.
Parents are worried about the impact of the education-deficit of the lockdown on the future of their youngsters.
There have been numerous terrifying claims about the rise in domestic abuse and violence in our homes.
There are constant warnings about the dangerous consequences of loneliness — particularly for the elderly.
Arguably the most irresponsible example of scare-mongering are the claims — despite lack of evidence — that the pandemic has created a “perfect storm” for suicide risk.
The most disturbing outcome of the constant stream of alarming warnings is that it encourages people to respond to the uncertainties of life by always fearing the worst.
Unfortunately, worst-case thinking has a habit of disempowering us and encouraging people to adopt passive forms of behaviour.
That is why so many of us have learned to comply with lockdown measures to the point that we are reluctant to return to work or allow our children to go back to school.
It appears that official messaging about the need to “Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” has become so ingrained that far too many people, who should have gone to hospital for treatment, instead stayed at home.
One major survey published — Getting Used To Life Under The Lockdown — indicates that 49 per cent of the respondents agreed with the statement that “there are some aspects of the lockdown measures that I’ve enjoyed”.
Surveys also indicate that millions of us are worried the lockdown is being eased too rapidly.
While many parents are delighted about the re-opening of schools, others have been determined to keep their children out of the classroom until September.
That parents fear for their children’s safety is entirely understandable.
However, it is important to realise that the longer we remain under lockdown, the more difficult it becomes to deal with our fears.
Having learned to live with lockdown, we must now learn to live with our fear of an uncertain world.
The coronavirus is not going to go away any time soon.
And the sooner we take sensible steps towards returning to work and opening more and more schools, the faster we can learn to regain a measure of control over our lives.
This means taking sensible precautions for those most at risk, but those of us who are less likely to contract a life-threatening strain of Covid-19 need to find a way to get back to normal.
It’s no use letting fear ruin the rest of our lives. One of the lessons from the history of disasters is that communities and individuals have a capacity to adapt to new circumstances through learning from their experiences.
That is why stepping outside our doors and attempting to manage life away from our homes is the precondition for returning to a new form of normal life.
Like getting on a bicycle for the first time, it is scary but soon we will wonder “what was all that fuss about?”
One of the upsides of emerging from the lockdown is that we no longer have to fear on our own.
The privatised sense of anxiety experienced when you are apart from others is far more debilitating than the fears we feel when we are together.
In these circumstances we are reminded yet again that belonging to a community is the most precious asset that human beings possess.
Research into the way humanity has learned to overcome adversity shows that community life and social solidarity plays a decisive role in containing the corrosive impact of plagues and pandemics.
Now is the time for us to embrace that — together.
- Frank Furedi’s Why Borders Matter: Why Humanity Must Relearn The Art Of Drawing Boundaries, published by Routledge, is out now.
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