PERCEPTION – how do we make sense of these times?

As we leave the first year of the 2020s behind us, we may wonder what happened?

It was (and often still is) hard to believe any of what we were and are experiencing was or is real. We have no frame of reference for it. None of our grandparents have. In this article we want to look at what has been, why we reacted the way we did and how we can recalibrate for the future.

Now what?

So many of us spent the bulk of last year in survival mode. We need to acknowledge our feelings, but we cannot stay there. We need to examine how these influence our recent decisions and our future plans – or lack thereof. We cannot divorce our emotional and social responses from the decisions we make in terms of finance.

Anywhere but here and now

Experiencing a sense of powerlessness makes contemplation of the and what we can do about it difficult. Present trauma drains our energy and appetite for risk. We want to hide our heads under a blanket and eat comfort food. It was fun – at first. But nearly all of us are also resentful of that. We may feel guilty about these feelings because there are so many people worse off than us.

So, we swallow our feelings – literally and figuratively. Or deny EVERYTHING – the virus, the effects of it, and our responsibility in containing it. We may rebel. Or do nothing. Or blame. Or dull our senses. Or distract ourselves with internet shopping and making pineapple beer.

We saw, at the beginning of lockdown, how easy it is to irrationally buy stuff we do not need or at least not in the quantities we purchase it in – like toilet paper. What did you buy?

Looking the bull squarely in the eye

We need to acknowledge where we come from:

  • We began 2020 in recession
  • We faced endless load shedding – ironically (sadly) Eskom moved down the list of significant threats to South Africa
  • In March we experienced one of the harshest lockdowns in the world
  • More and more dirty laundry was hung out to dry in terms of corruption
  • Additional bundles of dirty laundry were found on the doorstep of government that reeked of PPE and health care corruption and mismanagement
  • Our economy shrunk by 51% – 2 million formal jobs were lost; many more will follow
  • Gender-based violence blew up

The first pandemic in South Africa is not COVID-19

The Government set up a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and femicide command centre. During the first three weeks of lockdown more than 120,000 cases were reported. In Tshwane alone, the Government’s call centre received between 500 and 1,000 calls a day.

Other support call centres, like the one Vodacom set up, reported a rise of 65% in calls from women and children who need urgent help because they were confined in their homes with their abusers. The burden of disease unit at the SA Medical Research Council, commented that these shocking figures would have been even worse without the alcohol ban.

Unfortunately, this did not mean people were not drinking and the ban on alcohol introduced even more illegal activities. This compounds the risks for anyone who speaks out.

Women especially did not want to report assaults for fear of secondary victimisation at police stations and shaming in the community. Both these forms of secondary victimisation intensifies when the perpetrator is a leader in the community. During lockdown level five, GBV centres were meant to remain open but some closed and others were “inaccessible” due to lack of transport.

South Africa outnumbers most other countries when it comes to gender-based violence and femicide.

The rapid and widespread response to Covid-19 showed what is possible when the political will is there. WE vote those people into power.

You have probably seen posts and read up a lot about these topics. Facebook will fill your newsfeed with the type of posts you are most likely to read. Through analytical programmes they can monitor how long you stay on a page, whether you respond or go deeper or click on other posts. This is how they make money.

No-one will blame you if you are feeling blue

Some rainbows

Good news does not sell as well as bad news. That is why murder mysteries and horror films are so popular! It does not mean there is not good news. So, let us look at some of the positives:

  • The JSE has reached an all-time high in the past week and Investment in emerging, especially African markets, is showing strong signs of improvement.
  • The inflation rate in South Africa is at an all-time low.
  • The prime rate is also at an all-time low – it dropped by 3% – a record in such a short period.
  • Small enterprises that had refocused their markets during the more restrictive lockdown periods are beginning to reap the benefits.
  • Many of us have embraced the 4th Industrial Revolution in ways we never thought would be possible.
  • As more companies embrace online work, so it has become possible for workers to work remotely for companies from around the globe.
  • The housing market is in recovery due to low inflation and lending rates.
  • Key arrests with regard to corruption have been made and others are FINALLY being made to answer for shenanigans that were going on more than a decade ago.
  • There are multiple COVID-19 vaccines available and some measures in place to make sure that countries with less spending power can have access to it.
  • People across the country from various socio-economic brackets and cultural and religious groups realised that they COULD make a demonstrable difference to the plight of those who are vulnerable, without state intervention. The CAN groups (Communication Action Networks) is a case in point. CAN groups kept thousands of people alive through paring groups of affluent and under-resourced neighbourhoods to set up soup kitchens.

So where does it leave you and me?

Research shows that it is not so much our circumstances that make us feel distressed, more so a feeling of not being able to do something about them. Feeling you can make a difference to others also gives meaning to your life and help you feel less isolated and depressed.

We are all struggling with the trauma of the last few months – our own and that which we observe around us. Even a small amount of bad news can send us into a downward spiral where we then tend to make generalisations like ‘everything in my life is bad’.

To counter generalisations, we need to ask questions – of ourselves, our communities, and our government structures. Work from the micro-level all the way through to the macro-level – it is all connected:

What do you really need right now?
  • What is your motivation for wanting these things?
  • Are there alternatives?
  • Can you account for your spending by going through your bank statements?
  • Is there someone you can talk to about your financial stress?
What do the communities you belong to need?
  • How can you find out?
  • Can you support their efforts?
  • If not through financial contributions are there other ways you could help?
Are the initiatives of the Powers that Be aligned with these?
  • How can you find out?
  • Where and how do you check your sources?
  • How can you make your opinions known in a way that would bring about change?

Some take-aways to counteract feeling overwhelmed and pessimistic

  1. Be encouraged – Hold onto lessons you have learnt – your creativity and adaptability that has made you survive until now.
  1. Be awake – Evaluate what you read on social media – how do you know if this is true, and have you thoughtfully considered opposing views? When last did you focus on finding something positive to share with others?
  1. Be aware – You may be holding a lot of tension and you have become used to it so you do not feel it consciously – what can you do to look after yourself without compulsively shopping?
  1. Be compassionate – People are still hungry, becoming ill and are still hurting emotionally – can you guard your heart from becoming hard towards others?
  1. Be invested – Think about the future – how can you prepare? Can you explore some of the many free courses from top universities like Harvard and MIT on sites like EDX?

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