The freedom to look beyond the screen

Today we celebrate Freedom Day without the opportunity to attend a large gathering of like-minded people, without the feeling of celebrating our progress from the past together in physical presence, without the heated discussions grappling with the strong hold that the past still seems to have on us. Instead, there are live-streamed events, and perhaps we will have the possibility of an online interaction which touches on some of these topics…

Lately, I have been part of a few online conversations, where it was obvious that people are misunderstanding each other. The reasons are complex. How does the isolation of physical distancing influence the mix? In South Africa we have a history of living in our own bubbles with little awareness of what other’s reality looks like. In lock-down, with minimal exposure to others, we look through the screen of our opaque bubble and see that we are facing the same storm out there, feel that we are burdened with the same loss of freedom. Yes, we are slightly aware that there are differences in people’s experiences, but we’re all in this together, aren’t we? Let’s have a closer look.

The obvious question to start with concerns physical space – where is my lock-down bubble – is it suburban, inner city, township or rural? How spacious is it? Does it have more rooms than people? Do I have access to a garden? Do I want to be here? How far away is the closest shop? How do I get there? Can I buy the essentials?

Let’s move on to people – who am I sharing my lock-down space with? Do I get on with these people? What are my responsibilities here? Are there children at home? Do they need to do schoolwork? Are there students here too? What are the noise levels? Is there discord, conflict, or even abuse?

Am I alone? Am I an extrovert or introvert? How much contact with others am I having? Do I feel comfortable in front of a screen? How much social media am I using? Am I facing unstructured empty hours every day? How am I doing mentally and emotionally? Am I bored, tired, depressed, anxious, relaxed?

What about work? Has my work continued, but now with the added pressure of adjusting to greater use of technology? Is my work stressful at the best of times? Do I have access to data or wi-fi? Am I unable to work under lock-down circumstances, but so far my job is secure? Am I unemployed?  Is my financial future uncertain?

At this stage interacting with others is a precious opportunity, an expression of the freedoms we do still enjoy, whether on screen or off. We want to make the most of the potential for connection there is here. When we interact with each other, let’s be aware of the assumptions that living in our bubble may bring with it, and keep in mind that each of us is reacting to different challenges in our spaces. We can listen more closely to what people are saying. For some the interaction with us may be one of very few. In such cases it is even more important to feel understood. This interaction may change the way we both view our respective bubbles.  As I listen well, I might even discover that the challenge I am grappling with is the experience that the other person is longing to swop with me…



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