SARAH BUITENDACH: Covid-19 reveals who your friends really are
I feel perplexed about the people I see on Instagram, swanning about at lunches in the winelands and braais in the ’burbs. Are they mad? Or am I just a big baby?
Booze-fuelled animosity at dinner parties over the death penalty — so 2019!
Family feuds about whether Donald Trump is the antichrist or a hallowed crusader against the evil “liberal elites”? Please!
There’s a new anarchist in town and he’s packing heat. With one nimble move, he’s busting up decades-long friendships and leaving formerly sturdy clans broken and in pieces. He is Covid-19, and he’s here to make you realise that those you normally hold dear often have vastly different views on how to act as we remain stuck in this pandemic no-man’s-land.
While you get jittery even dousing your Zulzi delivery with Jik, it turns out one of your (formerly) close mates went out for dinner last night, and Facebook shows him and his (other) 15 closest mates in a mass of merriment, wine and human secretions.
While you’re contemplating which wallpaper to put in your underground bunker, he says he’s doing his bit to support the economy and anyway, this thing is totally overblown.
That friendship has known happier times.
One of my own friends, chatting to me on the phone on her isolated birthday, said Covid-19 had forced us all to make bizarre moral calls we never imagined we’d face in our wildest dreams. Would a playdate between her son and his classmate, who is a desperately lonely only child, be dangerous to her own elderly parents, she wondered.
I didn’t have any answers. But then, this pandemic has accentuated my own risk aversion: I feel perplexed about the people I see on Instagram, swanning about at lunches in the winelands and braais in the ’burbs.
Are they mad? Or am I just a big baby who is out of line suggesting their nonchalant gallivanting is wildly irresponsible?
This piece by Ashley Fetters for The Atlantic offers some interesting viewpoints on this uncharted territory — as well as advice from Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and friendship researcher, on what to do in these unprecedented, worrying times.
It is, in parts, a bit therapisty. “She encourages her clients to avoid accusatory or blaming language like ‘You shouldn’t do that’ or ‘I don’t like it that you do this’, and to start with an open-ended question like ‘What value is [this measure you don’t follow] conflicting with?’”. But get through the gumpf, and there are some valuable tools for managing this moment.
For the parents reading this, Holly Burns’ New York Times article on the theme will make you laugh (and possibly cry) but it’s an important read about sending clear messages to your kids about socialising at this moment.
Both articles offer deeply relevant advice about kindness and balance, and being sensitive and sensible.
You might be on the same page about religion and home-schooling, but what about coronavirus-related behaviour? It’s an issue causing deep ructions in partnerships across the globe, as The Washington Post reveals here.
As you can imagine, there are various opportunities for conflict: staying home versus going out, political differences that have bubbled over in close quarters.
Indeed, there are couples who’ve parted ways because of their different outlooks on the virus and lockdown, and then those who, like our own Leon Louw and Frances Kendall (he of the Free Market Foundation, she the author and artist) who were interviewed for the article.
They’ve muddled through these months together but acknowledge that it’s been tough going. For them, conflict has been mostly over ideological factors rather than practicalities. Their thoughts on the topic are fascinating, and as Kendall observes: “I think the only reason we’ve weathered it is because we’ve been married for so long.”
Which is just as well. As infection numbers continue to fly, the prognosis suggests we’re in for much bleaker days. Now is probably not the moment to cancel friends and extended family, however tempting it may be.
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