Ten days into lockdown in Britain and a new world is emerging.

The response has been mostly positive. Scattered anti-Chinese sentiments have given way to the entire food chain voluntarily co-operating to meet the crisis. Huge numbers of people clapped in appreciation of National Health Service workers. In a matter of days, 750,000 volunteered to help the NHS.

Teddy bears

Inspired by Michael Rosen’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, people in several countries including Britain, America and Australia have been placing teddy bears in windows to entertain children out on their daily permitted walk.

The New Zealand Herald reports that Prime Minister Jacinta Adearn has joined in, putting bears in a window of her residence in Wellington.

In my village, bears have been proliferating for a few days and stressed parents have posted messages of gratitude. Yet one resident protested that the bears encouraged public movement and even complained to the police.

I say this not to judge or take sides, but to highlight that lockdown magnifies everything. If your core value is love, lockdown presents opportunities to uplift others in a variety of ingenious ways. If your core value is fear, everything looms as a spectre that inflates the power of the virus.

If your core value is love, lockdown presents opportunities to uplift others in a variety of ingenious ways. If your core value is fear, everything looms as a spectre that inflates the power of the virus.

In both cases, our imagination is at work—the part of us that asks, “What if?” A positive imagination foresees positive outcomes, while a fear-ruled imagination sees disaster at every turn, feeding dread, panic and anxiety.

Sustainability

The longer the lockdown lasts, the longer our imaginations will run rampant—for better or worse. Over time, the things that nourish us will nourish us more; the things that poison us will become increasingly toxic. Lockdown is going to be a tough time for those with addictions masking unaddressed, underlying issues.

That doesn’t just mean conventional addictions like cigarettes, alcohol or porn that use an external element to anaesthetize internal disquiet. A mind brooding endlessly on coronavirus fears every time it sees a teddy bear in a window is just as much in the grip of addiction.

All around the world—as lockdown magnifies everything—people are going to find themselves facing their own demons. It’s not going to be pretty, but it does serve a purpose. It’s going to push us towards emotional sustainability. We are being stripped bare (see what I did there?) emotionally and profound change must follow.

Andrà tutto bene

The magnifying glass of lockdown amplifies not only our inner fault lines but social ones as well. The less democratic and more impoverished a nation, the worse the issues lockdown will bring to light.

In Paraguay, lockdown violators have been forced to do star jumps or repeat, “I won’t leave my house again, officer,” like naughty children given lines at school. Interior Minister Euclides Acevedo congratulated the police on the “creativity” of the punishments and on the videos of them the police shared online.

In Italy, where people sang “andrà tutto bene” (“everything will be well”) at the start of the crisis, the same phrase is being recycled as a protest slogan now that economic privations are hitting home: “everything will be well with income and homes for all.” Social unrest looms.

Everything is being stress-tested, from our emotional resilience to the fitness for purpose of all our beliefs and institutions. Much will be found wanting.

Our world of indiscriminate consumption, of colossal economic inequality and of emotional irresponsibility is withering away under the pitiless magnifying glass of lockdown. Like it or not, we need this. Andrà tutto bene.

Markus Spiske