Young people at wild partyt

After the earliest recorded pandemic of 430 B.C. in Athens during the Peloponnesian War,  people rushed out in a spirit of ‘lawless extravagance’, responding to their brush with death by what might be termed ‘revenge living’, enjoying life wildly, spending lavishly where they could and tossing aside any fear of God or man-made laws.

There was a feeling of anger towards the gods who had not protected the people no matter how devout they had been and no one expected to live long enough to be punished by the Courts, so they were prepared to defy the laws of the land in seeking pleasure and indulgence.

Fast-forward to 2020

If you are still in lockdown, you’re no doubt visualizing how things might be when the restrictions are lifted and deciding what you want to do – again?

Free to go outside, to breathe the freshest air you’ve experienced for a while, to take a walk, to meet up with a certain number of friends and family. These are now considered to be amazing liberties, a thought that would have been bizarre only a few months ago when we were totally unaware of the impending pandemic.

History tells us that liberation from a visible enemy, as in a military war, is exhilarating. Movies depict scenes of jubilant people singing and dancing in the streets, hugging total strangers, tossing anything that represents their recent restriction (face masks) into the air.

But what about when we’re coming out from quarantine following a pandemic? Will our reaction be more cautious out of fear of a second wave of the virus?

It’s one thing to have voluntarily distanced ourselves from others to prevent catching or spreading the virus. It’s another thing altogether to have been forced into quarantine in the first place.

Being suddenly freed from confinement brings its own issues

When we are released from our enforced confinement of several weeks, where we likely experienced a degree of fear, anxiety, isolation and perhaps loneliness, the situation can be compared to being freed from a hostage setting. There is ample research to show that released hostages don’t just hop, skip and jump into a new chapter of their lives. A period of transition is needed. And that’s something we should consider – both for ourselves and others – as we prepare for the Grand Opening of society.

Typical reactions to being released from enforced captivity range from:

cognitive issues: impaired memory and concentration, confusion and disorientation, heightened senses and a terror of the same thing happening again and being returned to confinement.   

emotional issues: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) shock, fear, anxiety, anger, and depression – even guilt at having survived while others perhaps didn’t.

social issues: irritability, withdrawal from others and avoidance of reminders of what just happened.

If this is the framework we’re dealing with, clearly taking our return to liberty one step at a time is good advice.

But good advice that points towards disciplining yourself is not always welcome when you’ve just emerged from a dire situation where your life itself was threatened. The 1920’s are testament to that.

A repeat of what just happened is possible

In the so-called ‘Roaring Twenties’, after people emerged from the Great War of 1914-18 and then escaped the ravages of the pandemic of 1918/19, they grasped at the opportunity for extravagance reminiscent of the scenes in Athens centuries earlier.

As investment and consumerism flourished, the economy roared. And then it all came to a screeching halt with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which led to the Great Depression of the 1930’s and a second wave of world war beginning in 1939.    

So, what will you do? How will you cope?

Will you defy the call for social distancing and head off in a big group to the beach or the countryside on vacation, max out your credit card, or will you opt for resilience, be thankful that you’ve survived,  and take this as a glorious opportunity to help create a better, more inclusive, caring, sharing world?

We now have the chance not only to open our economies, schools, businesses, and recreational venues, but also to open our hearts to each other.

And if we choose the heart-based route, we will be placing more value on being well-healed rather than being well-heeled.  

History is calling. What’s your response?