“Doing the right thing is not the problem. Knowing what the right thing is, that’s the challenge.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson
How are you doing?
To tell the truth, I’m finding this semi-lockdown thing a bit frustrating and a little uneasy.
I’m jumpy about space; moving out to pass people on the pavement – catching their eye with an appreciative and apologetic smile if they step aside, feeling rude for not making the first move, fighting off the unsettling sense of “being something to avoid”, and hoping they don’t feel that too. If the children are with me, I’m on heightened alert, shepherding them with a quick “Keep over!” or “Move to the side!”.
It shouldn’t bother me, most people on the street smile back, and some even say hello which is nice. It’s just that feeling of trying to do the right thing without always knowing exactly what the right thing is. Take walking with friends – that awkward shuffle when the path narrows or someone comes the other way. Do I go in front or to the side? Am I far enough apart to show respect for their health and wellbeing? Can I stroke the dog?
Trying always to be thoughtful and responsible…
…until I forget, and instinct takes over. Our friend’s daughter was trying to put a flower in her hair, she dropped it and without thinking, I picked it up and reached out to help her. “Mummy! Stop! You can’t do that!” yelled my daughter sharply.
On top of the “do the right thing” pressure is a general feeling of uneasiness – a nervousness of uncertainty, that despite all the precautions we can and have put in place, there remains an invisible threat that we still don’t fully understand.
At the post office (after estimating a point roughly 2 meters behind a tall, older lady) I joined the queue. The lady in front was smartly dressed in navy and white striped trousers and linen jacket, her wiry grey hair was caught up in a bun. She was fiddling anxiously with the corner of a neatly addressed envelope. A man wandered up stepping dangerously close to her safe zone. I felt agitated for her before realising, with an inward roll of eyes at my stupidity, that he was of course her husband, who, judging by the lumpy bag in his hand, had just been to Co-op.
The man nodded to his wife, “You can go in now.”.
“Can I ?” she answered nervously, peering through the glass.
“It’s ok,” he said reassuringly. “I’ll wait here for you.“ And he gave her a smile and one of those “It’s ok you can do this” looks.
She clearly didn’t want to go in, her fight, flight and freeze system was in flight mode. It’s one of those “left over from being a caveman” responses we all have when faced with threat – a fast acting, automatic survival instinct that activates hormonal and physiological changes to protect us. The flight response is great for threats like tigers, and more recently, cars, but is considerably less useful with a new invisible virus where perceived threat is everywhere. She hesitated, but covering her hand with her sleeve, pushed the door open and went in.
Last week, I took my daughter to the our local farm shop. She was excited, it was the first shop she had been to for three months, but inside she became nervous, ushering me on, looking round anxiously. She urged me not to pick up too many things, “Yes… those strawberries will do…” she hissed though her teeth as I hesitated over which punnet to take. She, like the lady at the post office, was in full flight mode triggered by a threat she couldn’t see.
“It’s ok,” I said, trying to reassure her. But I can’t completely reassure her can I? because I can’t see it either! I can just weigh up the risks and do what I can – according to what we know at this moment.
“It’s like a guessing game,” she said afterwards. “How do we know?… We might touch one thing and it’s got it on, but another thing might not.”
We cannot see, so we imagine – all the uncertainties, and all the unknowns.
But there’s something else too…
Uncertainty is not new. Before all this, we lived with it every day, because as far as I know, no one can predict what is going to happen in the future. Tomorrow I will know new things that I don’t know right now, and next week I will know even more.
We can use what we already know to help us weigh up risks and mitigate risks. We should trust ourselves to do what is right for us, for our circumstances, and our wellbeing, making the best choice we can at that moment. We can only control what we can control, and need to trust in a collective sense of responsibility where the majority of people will do the right thing and make the right choices too.
So I can reassure my daughter (and the woman at the post office if I knew her) too, that while we may be uneasy and we should still be vigilant, if we balance our nervousness with reason rather than perception, we can stop seeing tigers where there are none.
Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee
I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far.
To get in contact with Deborah, email email@example.com
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com