by Dr. William Wan on

The effect of Covid-19 is something the world has never seen. It isn’t so much the virus itself, because we’ve survived global pandemics like the swine flu in 2009, but more the reaction to the crisis.

For the first time, the world is in virtual lockdown, international travel is almost non-existent and social isolation is touted as a preferred means to fight the disease. In a world of globalisation and connectivity, these measures are unprecedented.

Since every one of us is a potential carrier of the virus, draconian lockdowns are in place because some have shown that they are not socially responsible, even in the face of their own mortality.

The strategy to tackle this is simple – stay at home as much as possible and wash your hands. But it turns out to be hard because not to socialize outside the home is not normal for many of us. We are called to do this as a measure to deal with a crisis.

In the Chinese language, the notion of crisis consists of two characters – one refers to danger and another, opportunity. There is always an opportunity to do something good in the face of danger.

As a society, and a global community, this is the opportunity to reflect on how to socialize differently. As humans are social creatures, a large part of our lives is socializing, whether it is hanging out with friends, going on holidays, worshipping in churches, temples or mosques, or attending parties and events.

The idea of not socializing is scary for us. It is perfectly summed up by a young person, who spoke to TODAY, in a story about party-goers having one final night of clubbing before the outlets have to close for a month. The 25-year-old student told the publication, “Although we could catch (the virus), it’s better than having to stay at home. Because of this virus situation, everything is closed and we don’t have anything else to do.”

Movements such as us and SG Cares, have focused on socializing through the art of giving. That makes sense, considering the latest World Giving Index, published by the Charities Aid Foundation, showed Singaporeans to be somewhat reluctant to volunteer (ranked 59th worldwide) and help strangers (ranked 96th). This confirms the findings of the Individual Giving Survey last year by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), which showed that only 29 percent of Singaporeans volunteer, compared with 35 percent in 2016.

While it is important to continue to drill home the need to be more sociable by giving more, perhaps the opportunity has arisen to see how we fare in the art of giving up, as a different kind of socializing.

Whether it is giving up our time, money or our comforts, charity requires us to make our social environment better. It is one of the tenets of being other-centred.

In a time like this, we are already beginning to measure others by how much they are willing to give up to make our society better in a time like this.

Organisations and businesses are judged by how they eschew profit for safety. The ones who proactively cancel events, like football games and parties, are seen in a good light, despite the financial impact. Those that only do so by government decree are seen less favourably.

For individuals, we have seen universal condemnation for those who hoard essentials such as eggs and toilet rolls. Panic buying crisis is a sign of selfishness; those who don’t do so are actually giving up a sense of security for the sake of the community, who needs these goods as well.

And yet, if we are to overcome this as one, and with kindness, give up we must.

It is hard though. For a nation that grew up extolling the 5Cs (Cash, Car, Credit card, Condominium and Country club) as a symbol of success, and giving as a way of giving back to society as a socializing process, there has been no greater paradigm shift than Covid-19.

So how do we perfect the art of giving up as a different act of socializing for the good of society in a time like this?

For starters, we can give up physical social interactions, at least until the virus has been fully contained. It sounds easy, but it’s not. The fact that the Government is resorting to shutdowns, and the threats of fines and jail time to enforce safe distancing is an indication of just how hard it is for people to take this seriously.

But giving up these social interactions is actually showing love and care for your friends, family and community. One can be asymptomatic but still carry the virus, so the truth is that as much as we think we are fine, we don’t really know that for a fact. While we can’t live in solitary confinement for a sustained period, not going to that birthday party or that dinner with your friends or your weekly football game not only protects yourself, but your loved ones as well.

We should exercise sacrifices in our daily routines, such as going to the gym to exercise, or dining in at hawker centres and restaurants and avoiding crowded places like malls and supermarkets during peak hours. It will be inconvenient, but it helps in containing the virus if we can stay at home as much as possible.

Giving up physical signs of love, such as hugs and kisses, may sound paranoid and extreme, but in actual fact, in these harsh times, it is an indication of how much you care about your loved ones. To a lesser degree, we have already started giving up the common ritual of socialization through handshakes for the time being.

These are small gestures, but play a big part in winning the fight against an invisible enemy.

The act of giving up, especially in a time like this, is the ultimate art of giving. It is a new understanding of socialization as a means to make our society better, and in this case healthier.  When this is over, we will look back and reflect. How much we gave up to help stop the virus will reveal the extent we truly care for our society.  We have a better chance of socializing in the normal way when we socialize a little differently for now.

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