opinion

'I'm living through the latest wave of COVID-19 in NSW. Where has our compassion gone?'

It's the middle of 2021 and Greater Sydney is in lockdown.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a single person in Australia who hasn’t in some way been impacted by the lockdowns that have rolled out since the middle of March last year. 

It sucks for introverts because you might suddenly find yourself at home surrounded by people you can no longer get a break from. 

It sucks for extroverts because you have nowhere to go.  

It sucks for people locked in and out of Australia. There are babies being born that family cannot meet. Loved ones dying that we can't say goodbye to. 

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There are major life milestones like weddings, birthdays, graduations, formals, holidays and so much more that we're missing out on with our family and friends. Plans are constantly changing at the last minute, and everyone is living with the knowledge that something they plan today may simply not happen.

COVID-19 has turned our once carefree way of life on its head. People made decisions to live expat lives at a time when we couldn’t imagine the world closing the way it has today. People made decisions based on the fact that they could hop on the next flight home if there was an emergency, or if they were just homesick and wanted to see family and friends. 

But despite the difficulty we're all facing - every single one of us - the compassion feels... gone?

Our politicians haven't helped. Every time there's an outbreak, the blame game starts again. Which government is to blame? Or is it the public?

There are mixed messages between federal and state leaders. Get the vaccine, don’t get the vaccine. We wish we could give you the vaccine, but we can’t and that isn’t our fault, you need to look over there to find the person to blame for that. 

None of this helps with the fear, heartache, anxiety, and uncertainty in the community. People have watched their livelihoods crumble in front of their eyes. At first there was some financial support, but now it feels as though everyone is very much on their own. Each lockdown brings greater financial stress, and less support.

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Others have had to make heart-breaking decisions about quitting their hard-earned jobs and leaving much-loved lives to move home to wherever home is, so that they can be closer to family. Other people are making heart-breaking decisions to stay put not knowing when (if ever) they will be able to hug their loved ones again. 

This time last year, as Melbourne entered one of the world's hardest and longest lockdowns, I felt there was a real kindness movement taking place. I felt like if that was the lasting effect of COVID, that would be a good outcome. Maybe we needed this adversity to be better to each other.

But as Sydney enters its third week of lockdown this time around, I'm left wondering: where has our compassion gone? 

Are we so fatigued by everything that we literally and figuratively have no room left for compassion for others? There will always be someone worse off than you, someone who has done it harder than you, but does that mean we shouldn't show compassion to those who haven't 'suffered as much'? 

Sydneysiders have had our lockdown extended once, and will likely have it extended again. It will last as long as it takes to get transmission rates down to at least near zero. 

Online there is a lot of chatter, and this time around, not a lot of it is nice. With schools going back to remote learning, teachers are expressing their sadness and frustration of having to pivot to online teaching. This is being met by some with sentiments like, 'cry me a river', or 'come back to me when you have had to do 22 weeks of remote learning'.

Of course, unlike those in Melbourne, Sydneysiders can't understand what 108 days of lockdown was like. We haven't done it before. We did try to understand. We did try to practice kindness. 

During those 108 days many big events happened, and people missed out on so much. We all know that, and no one can get those moments back. Sydneysiders may not have been in lockdown last year, but many missed those moments with their interstate or international family and friends as well. 

Sydneysiders are looking to the people of Melbourne as a beacon of hope. We are looking to them to help us with your tips and tricks on how to get through lockdown, not your harsh words and quick quips about how we haven’t done it as hard. We are looking to those who have walked this pathway to guide us with kindness and a compassion. Maybe it is too soon. Maybe there is still too much hurt that is yet to heal.

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This time around, we also seem to be angrier. At the government, but also at each other. There's a sense of tension in the streets. No one is singing Imagine anymore. 

Perhaps it's because we're not able to accept that we're all suffering, in countless different ways. 

One of my favourite authors Brené Brown talks about comparative suffering, and the "myth that empathy is a finite resource". She says we convince ourselves that we only have a limited amount of empathy, and therefore if we are too kind to ourselves or give ourselves permission to feel too much sadness or anger, then we will not have enough to give to others who REALLY need it. 

When I think of comparative suffering, kindness and compassion, I can only hope that we can all dig deep and show empathy to those who are expressing how tough they are doing it right now. The current situation in Sydney does not negate how hard it was last year for the people in Melbourne. 

Now is the time to come together, and remember the Damian Barr quote: "We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm".

Practice kindness and compassion. It is the only way we will get through. 

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