A SHORT video clip has been doing the rounds on social media over the past few days. It features a man being interviewed by a voice behind the camera who says: ‘Would you A: rather be quarantined for three weeks with your wife and children, or B – ’, at which point the interviewer is cut off by the man’s shrieks of ‘B! B!’ without even hearing the details of his unknown fate.
Of course, we can all have a good chuckle at this man’s shock and dread at being subjected to 24-hour domesticity, but there is a deeper point to be extracted: why do we possess such an innate hostility to slowing down, kicking back, and spending time with those we love the most?
It has been often quoted throughout this crisis that during the First and Second World Wars, young men in their teens heard their nation’s cry for help and unreservedly responded by signing up to enter the uncertain fate of the battlefield in their thousands, while all we are being asked to do in 2020 is stay at home, but we can’t even do that.
While I am at university I may not see my family for weeks at a time, but the last few days have been filled with familial interaction, games, and meals around the dining room table. I can’t remember the last time that happened on a regular basis; our life paths had begun to splinter even on Christmas Days recently, and we couldn’t avoid arguments over the need to divide the dinner preparation workload or who would do the wrapping paper bin run.
Yet the coronavirus pandemic has had one great effect that none of us could have foreseen: the revival of the family unit. Over the last few decades we have become afraid of spending time with our families because we have become so focused on our jobs that we believe our worth is measured in pounds and pence, a condition which leaves no time for such processes as family bonding or neighbourly communication.
Much of the blame lies with technology which has seen mobile devices blur a line between the personal and the professional. But we shouldn’t deny our own passive role in separating ourselves from our loved ones while sharing our most intimate details with anonymous followers on the likes of Instagram and Twitter, thereby rendering ourselves worthless public goods for whom genuinely familial relationships can own no space.
Today, however, we are forced to reconnect, to look up from our screens, and re-evaluate our priorities in life. As day after day passes without deadlines, contracts or meetings, the family home becomes our universe, and the passage of time is redrawn. Instead of existing to please our professors or employers, we can finally live for ourselves, and engage in human relationships for the sake of them.
The global economy will continue to reel from this shock for years to come, but there is a silver lining, a legacy which will hopefully live beyond the dark days of this pandemic. We have rediscovered that which makes us who we are: the love of those closest to us.
At the same time, those who do not have families – both young and old – are exposed as the real victims of our fragmented and atomised society. They highlight how casually we have treated the thing we need most to survive. It is ironic that despite the state’s invasion of the private sphere, this disaster may be serve to strengthen it.