Inaction is aiding and abetting society’s ills

It’s the second lockdown in some places.  In my city in the north of France that shares borders with Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg, the streets are almost empty. Although the authorities allowed shops to reopen three days ago, local businesses find customers hard to come by.  Residents who go out for work reasons are at home before dusk. Hence, I was not surprised when I read that the number of reported street crimes has declined.

Meanwhile, we know that every crisis provides an opportunity for people to be resourceful; as well, not all crimes happen in the streets. Since the first lockdown in March, there have been reports on the rise in domestic violence, sale of fake medicine and treatment, consumption of exorbitant coronavirus-recommended cleaning and health products, and solicitation of donations for charities that either do not exist or do not deliver what they promise.

Recently, I heard about the UK’s COVID Fraud Hotline (0800 587 5030) encouraging people to phone anonymously and free of charge any suspected fraudulent activity. If you knew someone who has been claiming support illegally or abusing government schemes, would you call the hotline? It takes a long time for fraud to be discovered, and governments need a helping hand. Should we extend this to them?

Fraud against the public purse, wherever you are, limits or even denies access to vital funds that benefit society as a whole. This money should be used to help the poorest: contract workers, market stallholders, casual service providers and carers, struggling small businesses and independent earners, and those who are ineligible for unemployment benefit and do not have the means to feed and shelter themselves and their families; not double-dippers.

Will you tell the authorities about your colleague who is on paid parental leave but still continues freelancing? Will you refuse your employer’s directive to deal with clients’ queries or respond to work emails when you are on furlough? How about companies that get subsidy or funding to keep employees but do the opposite and pocket the money?

Fraud, whether big or small, affects all of us. The article “Most Common Workplace Frauds That Employer Should Know About” (https://www.bizeducator.com/most-common-workplace-frauds-that-employer-should-know-about) mentions, among other things, “Bogus supply of goods and services” and “Manipulation of bank reconciliations and cash books”. Those found guilty of these crimes are punished by fines, restitution, dismissal from work, or imprisonment.

Some common frauds in the workplace are hidden and unlikely to come to the attention of the authority. These include claiming for unworked hours, malingering, stealing office supplies, staging accidents, and faking injuries. It will be interesting to research on fraud in the workplace pre, during and post-pandemic.

“I’m not an informer”, “I hate workplace spies”, “I can’t be a whistleblower”, “I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s scuppered life”, so forth. Inaction is aiding and abetting our society’s ills, and it’s the elephant in the room.

Meanings are in people, not in words?

With globalisation and digitalisation, employees of one organisation often come from many places and cultures. They can have the same mentality driven by their company’s goals and values; however, not all of them automatically think, communicate and behave in the same manner due to such diversity.

Culture is knowledge and characteristics of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, arts, music, cuisine, and social habits. Although language is often the least difficult issue to confront, it can be a source of misunderstanding and unpleasantness at work.

What and how we speak are developed through cultural values and norms we learn directly and indirectly, which is called socialisation. In my recent English language class, a Polish student mentioned that for them “collaboration” is a negative word, i.e. siding with the Nazis – “the collaborators”. So, I suggested the use of “cooperation” or “working with” to avoid offending them.

An acquaintance gets upset every time she hears her colleagues use the word “execute”. These are the online dictionaries’ explanations of execute: a) to carry out fully or do what is required, b) to put to death in compliance with a legal sentence, c) to perform what is required giving validity to it, and d) to make or produce something – such as a work of art –  by carrying out a plan or design.

Why do they dislike the words “collaborate” and “execute”? They grew up in eastern and central Europe where their relatives and compatriots had been victims of collaboration and execution during the Second World War. Exposure to cultural cues and group narratives have contributed to their communication sensitivity.

We all associate words with various things related to our experience and environment. Unintentionally, we bring these moulds to our meeting rooms, offices and social functions that can make communication challenging or awkward.

How should we deal with misunderstanding due to elements of culture and socialisation? What about adapting our words and actions to these differences? Shall we stick to our patterns of behaviour without conflicting with those different from us? We can avoid miscommunication and ambiguity if we understand our history and culture and those of others.

During our first lesson that included a personal introduction, my student said, “I’m what others call a gipsy, but I prefer to be called a Romany”. (This is also spelt “Romani”).  We should ask questions, listen and respect others.

When I was young, my mother used the word “mulatto” to describe those whose one parent is black and the other is white. It was only when I was at university that I realised “mulatto” is offensive to some people.  Similarly, it is politically incorrect to use “half-breed” and “half-caste” to describe those whose parents have different skin colours and national origins. An acceptable phrase is “person of mixed cultures”.

Ethnicity (Cambridge Dictionary’s definition – “a particular race of people, or the fact of being from a particular race of people”), or its adjective “ethnic”, is quite all right for many people; however, it is often considered derogatory in the UK.  Ask the person which term they prefer (some people disapprove the phrase “person of colour”).

I use “foreign” to describe policies, something that comes from another country, or idea that I am not familiar with (strictly for non-human). I frown when a European calls me a “foreigner” because I am not an alien and do not feel and behave as an outsider (have lived longer in France than in my country of origin and been married to a local for nearly four decades).

We have to be open-minded and sensitive in our choice of words. Otherwise, consciously or unconsciously, we make our workplace and global village less desirable.

Death from or death with?

A fortnight ago, I read Marc Trabsky and Courtney Hempton’s article entitled “Died from or died with COVID-19? We need a transparent approach to counting coronavirus deaths” (The Conversation).  As an English language teacher for adults, I am used to answering questions on the sameness and differences in the meanings of words and phrases (e.g., work for/work with, look forward to/looking forward to, mandatory/compulsory, lease/rent, complete and finish, so forth). So, when I see articles on coronavirus, I think of the possible confusion due to the use of  ‘from’ and ‘with’.

Trabsky and Hempton explained, “Clarifying what’s being counted as a COVID-19 death is necessary for understanding the impact of the virus, and for informing public health and clinical responses to the pandemic.” In short, death from COVID-19. They further stated: “If we know who is susceptible to dying with COVID-19 because of pre-existing conditions, public health responses could more effectively target and protect potentially vulnerable people and communities”.

One of the dictionary definitions of ‘from’ is to indicate an agent cause or source; for example, I have received a motivating note from our supervisor. Whereas, ‘with’ denotes accompaniment, addition, combination, or presence; for example, I will accept the contract with two conditions. Hence, in the case of COVID-19 pandemic, who is/are responsible for the lumping of statistics that makes it confusing or difficult for the public to understand its real impact? Is it the reporters, medical practitioners, governments, or organisations or individuals with vested interests?

COVID-19, as with other pandemics, has highlighted the importance of numbers. Without statistical information, governments and relevant bodies (particularly the World Health Organisation) would not have been able to grasp this new and mysterious virus that continues to spread. However, these figures should be collected, analysed and presented to the public accurately and simply. Pundits’ data (useful or otherwise) are often quoted, requoted and forwarded quickly and widely, notably through the social media, with positive or negative consequences.

This subject reminds me of a former student who took an extended sick leave and did not finish her C1 English language course. According to her colleagues, it was due to stress from work.  I believed it readily but, now, I wonder if it was “stress with work”. How about ‘stress at work’? The first scenario gave me a scene of a horrible workplace that overpowered a happy personal and social life. The second one involved an unpleasant workplace due to uncooperative and rude manager or colleague, in addition to relationship difficulty at home.  

Stress at work can be beneficial as it keeps us alert and productive, as long as it does not trigger life-threatening events, such as severe health and emotional problems. The only way to deal with stress is to identify its cause and then reduce or eliminate this. I hope you are not stressed with the distinctive use of prepositions in the English language: by, for, from, in, with, on, at, etc. (I played chess at the weekend/UK; I played chess on the weekend/US = I spent time playing chess on Saturday or Sunday, and not over/during the weekend).

Prepositions are generally short words but essential. Their misused can make a difference between a clearly stated opinion and a confusing statement. However, when used properly, they allow us to share our ideas, emails and reports more precisely and understandably.

Ethnic and race profiling, unconscious bias

On 29 July 2020, while promenading, my son and I were stopped by French Police asking for our IDs. Unlike in Australia and other western countries, in France, we are legally obliged to show our photo identification if we are stopped and asked to by a police officer. This is called the identity check “Contrôle d’Identité’”. Pretending to be having a conversation with my son, I commented in English: “ethnic profiling”, “why us”, and “I wonder what criteria they use to decide who to stop”. I was hoping they would understand what I was saying; after all, English is taught widely in elementary, secondary and tertiary institutions in France.

Ethnic or racial profiling is the act of suspecting or targeting a person based on assumed characteristics or behaviour of a particular ethnic or racial group rather than on individual suspicion. I’m a Filipino-born Aussie and have a typical south-east Asian appearance. My 18-year-old son is 178 cm tall and has physical similarities with his white French-Australian father. They probably thought we were not together because I was some steps behind him trying to fix my hat while picking up my mask. Whereas, my son was in a hurry to avoid the soaring heat and was already under a shrub. When I called him back and he turned around, there was a change on the face of one of the police officers. His eyes became amiable, and he handed back my ID.  At least we were not searched during this “contrôle”. We had our identification cards with us; otherwise, they could have taken us to a police station to establish our identity (“vérification d’identité”).

Ethnicity is a social grouping based on common and distinctive culture, religion, or language. Race, however, refers to the person’s physical appearance; for example, Black, White, Asian, or Indigenous. An individual can be Asian but, ethnically, German.

Western countries’ statistics show that non-white people are more likely to be stopped by the police on the street. It is widely known that Australian and Canadian Aboriginals are more likely to be charged with crimes. In the USA, there is sufficient information on how African Americans and members of other minority groups (Hispanic and Latino Americans, Middle Easterners and South Asians) are suspected of criminal activities. In Germany, there was a court ruling concerning racial profiling in its policy allowing police to use skin colour and “non-German ethnic origin” to select persons who will be asked for identification in spot-checks for illegal immigrants. Of course, non-western nations are not exempted from this bias. The media have reported the Chinese government’s use of a facial recognition technology to track down and control its Muslim minority.

“Racial profiling” occurs when government and law enforcement people target those of colour for a humiliating and often frightening stoppage, detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of an illegal behaviour but based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.  Racial profiling must not be allowed in countries where the core promise of its Constitution is equal protection under the law for all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Is racial profiling effective? Studies and consultations show that this jeopardises law enforcement because police officers lose credibility and trust among the people they are sworn to protect and serve.

Is racial profiling discriminatory? The general principle of equality and non-discrimination is a fundamental element of international human rights law.

Anti-/non-discrimination law refers to legislation that prevents discrimination against particular groups of people based on sex, age, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, mental illness or ability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, sex characteristics, religion, creed, or individual political opinions. It is designed to hinder discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other areas of social life (this includes being in the streets or elsewhere). However, “not every distinction or difference in treatment will amount to discrimination. In general international law, a violation of the principle of non-discrimination arises if: a) similar cases are treated differently; b) a difference in treatment does not have an objective and reasonable justification; or c) if there is no proportionality between the aim sought and the means employed.” (http://www.humanrights.is/en/human-rights-education-project/human-rights-concepts-ideas-and-fora/s…)

In other words, with such international human rights legislation, we have the right to pursue our material, spiritual and social well-being in conditions of freedom, dignity and equal opportunity.

Discrimination is unproductive. In employment, it is economically unwise as victimised employees are unable to focus their energy on performing their tasks fully. Their feeling of negative vibes from a supervisor or colleague not only adversely impacts their job performance but causes absenteeism and ill-health.

France, for example, stands to gain some €150 billion over 20 years (i.e. a 0.35% increase in GDP per year) by increasing women’s and minorities’ access to skilled jobs and their overall employment rate (France Stratégie, https://www.strategie.gouv.fr/english-articles/economic-cost-workplace-discrimination-france-billions-euros-lost-potential).

How can prejudice and discrimination be dealt with? Employers, big or small, should have anti-discrimination policies and procedures in place that include regular training on cultural awareness and unconscious bias.  In the case of police departments, there should be a preference for community policing over strategies of power and fear.

Passion and hobby aren’t the same but both spice life and employment

Being paid for doing something that you enjoy is one of the most satisfying experiences.  However, not all jobs offer this opportunity and many people earn a living from performing tasks they are not over the moon with.

Passion often comes up when it comes to job happiness and fulfilment. Being passionate at work enhances the pursuit of excellence and increases commitment and performance. Passion can either flourish, diminish or disappear when put in certain work environments. Employers and companies that provide conducive work milieu and implement management practices that respect, motivate and reward fairly unlock employees’ passion for performing well.

Since not everyone has a passion for their profession, pursuing it outside work can also improve one’s job satisfaction and well-being. Passions are not precisely the same as with hobbies. Passion is doing something you enjoy and have an overwhelming feeling of devotion even when it is difficult and stressful, but the result is worth the effort. Whereas, a hobby is something you do when you have free time, are feeling bored, or want to relax. 

Engaging in activities with passion or having a hobby can reduce stress, provide opportunities to socialise, improve skill and confidence, and increase the level of alertness and creativity. As we have to juggle home, work and passion or hobby, we multi-task; therefore, we become skilled in organising priorities. In the process, we also develop our analytical and decision-making ability.

Passion plus hard work goes farther than natural talent. My passion is storytelling in the written form.  During the COVID-19 lockdown, I finished my novel “The Whisper of Regrets”, which explores real societal and relationship issues and is written in plain English. I have an inconsiderably slim chance of winning this August’s Amazon story competition, but as Alfred Lord Tennyson had said, “It’s better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would’ve happened if I had tried.” A little help goes a long way; so, I hope you’ll check it out.

Whereas, my acquaintance and fellow chess player (Said), who has postgraduate degrees in physics and engineering and works in these domains, has become a pundit on plants in Kabylia, Algeria. Likewise, my Aussie friend Loida spends nights and days drawing, painting, and taking panoramic photographs with joy and patience.

It is idealistic to say “have a passion” or “follow your passion”. The truth is that those who have a passion to follow are not numerous. Some people do not wish to have one because they have witnessed passionate people sacrificing their time and money to keep doing it with little or no visible short-term return. I believe it is easier to have a hobby than forced yourself to have a passion. Of course, a hobby can turn into a passion.

According to Good.CoTeam (https://good.co/blog/top-hobbies-boost-employability-skills/seen on 01/08/20), the top 8 hobbies that boost employability are 1. Endurance sports, e.g. running and swimming; 2. High-risk pursuits, e.g. mountain climbing and sky diving; 3. Creative hobbies tasks, e. g. cooking and photography; 4.Team sports, e.g. football and softball; 5. Strategic mind games, e.g. chess and Sudoku; 6. Creative writing, e.g. poetry, short stories or a personal blog; 7. Reading, museums, libraries; and 8. Community group involvement. These hobbies suggest that you are comfortable collaborating with others. As well, you could be seen as a particularly good personality fit for managerial roles. The caveat is that fabricating an interest in certain activities backfires. For instance, you have written ‘playing foosball’ as a hobby in your resume; when asked to join a team to compete in an inter-company tournament, you refused because you could hardly hit the ball.

It is worthwhile to discover, rediscover or harness our passion and hobby to live and work satisfyingly. These are some of the hobbies that do not cost money: aerobics or fitness exercise at home, bird watching, gardening (for yourself, neighbours and community), reading, running, stargazing, volunteering, walking, watching documentaries, and writing. 

Meanwhile, the world’s unemployment rate is alarming. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported on 09/06/2020 that the number of unemployed people in the OECD countries alone increased by 18.4 million to 55 million last April (https://www.oecd.org /newsroom/ unemployment-rates-oecd-update-june-2020.htm).  Moreover, to feed and shelter their families, millions of women and men have accepted jobs they are overqualified to do or in workplaces where they are undervalued. The passion for their career has long evaporated into thin air due to circumstances beyond their control. Also, some have their passions and hobbies constrained by time, as they have to look for work, do shifts, or take care of their children and elderly family members.

Passion can be an act of kindness; hobby can be skyping, zooming, facetiming, whatsapping or telephoning friends and relatives who live alone.

Gradual return to normality at work, home, etc.

On June 9, I resumed my face-to-face teaching after three months. Our work venue has been tailored to ensure physical distancing, and we are obliged to wear a face shield. There are arrows directing where to enter and exit; each room has information on the number of people allowed inside and a bottle of gel to hand sanitise. I have four students in an area of 18 square metres that can accommodate 20 people. According to them, my face shield produced echoed sounds. Likewise, I could not hear well what they were saying.  With our great sense of humour, we did not notice the time passing by; after an hour and a half of the lesson, the flipchart was filled with nouns, verbs and adjectives.

Confinement and social distancing have resulted in financial hardship, work stress, and relationship difficulties. Many of us have now gone back to our pre-COVID routine; however, there are still millions of people negotiating the transition back to what it used to be the “normal”.  Should common areas at home remain as workspaces? How many days per week should employees telework? Should religious service continue in car parks? Are drive-in cinemas a new vogue?

In her article “Life And Work After Covid-19: The Problem With Forecasting A Brighter Future’,  Josie Cox stated: “Our longing for a pre-pandemic existence (look no further than social media) is hard evidence of the fact that we will most likely revert to old habits and behaviors, both good and bad, when lockdowns are lifted and social distancing called off. We like the comforts and freedom of choice. In the workplace and beyond, we tend to choose a path of least resistance because that’s just the way we’re wired”. – US English (https://www.forbes.com/sites/josiecox/2020/04/14/life-work-after-covid-19-coronavirus-forecast-accuracy-brighter-future/#6732fcb765b1 seen 16/06/20).

On June 18, my husband and I went to the cinema (movie theatres opened on June 17 in Luxembourg and June 22 in France), and “Just Mercy” enthralled us. It is a compelling true story about Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative and Walter McMillian (who was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit).  We took off our masks only after we had sat down on our allocated seats. There were only eight of us in a room for 200 people. How long will it take for cinemas and theatres to attract crowds again?

Currently, in France and Luxembourg, workers who interact with customers and their colleagues are required to wear facial coverings. Unlike in China and some Asian countries where mask-wearing is a conscious act, this is not the case in cultures where it is associated with vulnerability and fear. Hence, I do not know when this “new normal” will disappear in Europe.

Even with government support programmes, many families and companies will simply not bounce back or recover overnight.  The scars of COVID-19 will always remind us of the fragility of our lives, employment and economy. On the other hand, it has made us more resilience and able to confront fear, uncertainty and impositions at home and work than ever before. It has awoken our admiration and gratefulness for the work of health care workers, home delivery people and Samaritans. It has made us think deeper about our relationships and environment.

As Europe opens its borders today (1 July 2020) and the summer holiday is getting underway, there are still controversies regarding the EU’s lists on who are allowed to enter and not. Brazil, the USA and Russia are not on the approved list; whereas Algeria, Australia and Canada are on it. The UK is neither, and China is subject to confirmation of reciprocity agreement. (Source: https://www.euronews.com/2020/06/29/revealed-draft-list-of-countries-that-will-be-allowed-to-enter-eu-when-borders-open? Seen 30/06/20).

As we go back to our pre-COVID work premises and lifestyle, let’s not be complacent. It is not yet totally safe. Therefore, we must remain alert and respect the remaining restrictions:

– Do not shake hands or greet people with kisses on the cheek.

– Respect social distancing staying at least one metre from others; otherwise, wear a     mask.

– Wash both hands often.

– Cough and sneeze into your arm and turn around/away from people.

– Use single-use tissues to wipe your mouth and face, and throw these away right away.

The good news is that we are born with immense capacity to adjust, readjust and survive. “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” — Leon C. Megginson (1921-2010), Professor Emeritus at Louisiana State University, USA).

Stay safe and cheerful.

Inequality in distance learning, virtual meeting and teleworking

A few weeks ago, one of my students emailed me: “I don’t have the intention to quit the course. I have been absent because of my very bad internet connection”.  She lives in Luxembourg, which is this year’s richest country in the world based on GPD per capita (https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/richest-countries-in-the-world: Luxembourg $119,719; Norway $86,362; Switzerland $83,832; Ireland $81,477; Iceland $78,181; Qatar $65,062; The United States of America $64,906; Denmark $63,434; Singapore $62,690; Australia $58,824). Those in developing nations, where there is a vast gap between the haves and have nots, experience even more inequality in distance education, virtual meeting and teleworking.

The abrupt shift to education online has created practical, technical, and emotional challenges; and the lack of reliable technology and internet access is only a tip of the iceberg. There are issues concerning teachers’ ability to carry out their tasks remotely, home environment that favour or disfavour learning, and help (or lack of it) that students get offline.

The data compiled by the Teacher Task Force, an international alliance coordinated by UNESCO, found that half of all students currently out of the classroom – or nearly 830 million learners globally — do not have access to a computer. As well, more than 40 per cent have no Internet access at home. (https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062232)

I teach adults at their company premises, which haven’t resumed yet. Currently, I have only two classes online. My son has been at home since the end of March finishing his first-year tertiary studies virtually and will return to Warwick University (UK) in October.  My friends and acquaintances have told me that they will continue to have video conferences instead of face-to-face meetings until the end of 2020. Whatever and wherever the situation, there is a form of inequality.

Through distance teaching, I got to meet my students’ children who needed instant parental care, men who wanted information from their wives right away and barking dogs (one of them jumped into its owner’s lap while we were discussing dog-eating people). Online lessons involve synchronous teaching in real-time, providing students with experience close to traditional classroom instruction. Overall, there are pluses: 1) active participation, 2) individual-centred teaching/learning, 3) varied materials used; 4) safe and stress-free environment. As a teacher, however, I miss observing my students doing their writing exercises and role plays. On the other hand, I save about two hours of commuting, and this gives me more time to prepare to be a better moderator and guide in their learning.

After three lessons via Zoom, my students had a stocktake; all of them expressed a strong preference for face-to-face learning over a virtual class. Their main reasons relate to social interaction and the psychological role of non-verbal communication.  Considering that two of them use their phones while the other four their personal computers with widescreen monitors, there is an inequality issue.

Almost all organisations across the globe have brought their board, committee and staff meetings and conversations into homes using technology platform and video conference software. The most used for these purposes are Cloud Meeting, ClickMeeting, ezTalks Cloud Meeting, Facetime, Freeconferencecall GoToMeeting, GroupMe, Infinite Conferencing, JoinMe, Skype, Slack, TeamViewer, WatchItToo,  Webex, Zoho Meeting, and Zoom. These obviously save travel times, but the equipment can be expensive and requires compatibility. The quality of image and sound depends on the amount spent on technology, which is not the same for everyone.

After the pandemic, virtual teaching and meetings are here to stay. Can we erase inequality? How can we reduce this?

Meanwhile, if your concern is making the most of distance learning or meeting, check out the following articles to start with:

“7 tips for effective virtual learning” https://www.quizalize.com/blog/2020/03/10/7-tips-for-effective-virtual-learning/

“How To Run A Successful Virtual Meeting” by Ashira Prossack on https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2020/03/30/how-to-run-a-successful-virtual-meeting/

“How to Run Effective Virtual Meetings Communicating Well With Technology” by Mind Tools Content Team on https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/running-effective-virtual-meetings.htm (seen 11/05/20)

All the best.

Personality and coping mechanism

Before I get into the subject of my article, I would like to mention that today is a public holiday in more than 80 countries that observe International Worker’s Day or May Day. Here in France, May 1st is known as “Workers Day of International Unity and Solidarity.”

As a freelance English language teacher, my livelihood was destroyed by COVID 19 on March 13. None in my family and social circles have asked me how I have been coping financially. It is most likely because they are concern more about my health than non-existing wealth. As well, money is a pet peeve for many of us.

There have been tens of thousands of deaths around the world, and I do not have words to describe the sorrow of their families and friends. I can only contribute to the discussion about this pandemic’s economic and psychological impacts, as I have lived it.

According to the United Nations (UN), the four sectors that have experienced the most “drastic” effects of the disease are: retail and wholesale (482 million workers); manufacturing (463 million); business services and administration (157 million); and food and accommodation (144 million). I belong to the third group. The UN ILO chief stated these four sectors “add up to 37.5 per cent of global employment, and these are where the ‘sharp end’ of the impact of the pandemic is being felt now (https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061322).

If you want a detailed analysis of this issue, you can visit https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/04/10/covid-19-economic-impact-human-solutions/ (COVID-19: Economic impact, human solutions By Edward Lempinen) and https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk/our-insights/covid-19-implications-for-business (COVID-19: Implications for business – Executive Briefing by McKinsey and Company).

Regardless of whether or not you have lost income during this period, we are all in the same boat when it comes to social distancing to avoid the spread of coronavirus.  Our personalities, predicaments and interests, which are different from one person to another, determine how we respond to social isolation. Logically, one would think that introverts come out better than extroverts in this situation because they enjoy being alone. Well, I belong to the latter, and I am doing all right.

Since the lockdown in March (the French government has announced that this will be lifted on May 17),  I have written a novel; improved the full draft of a non-fiction book; participated in 4 online chess tournaments; made about 300 pancakes; and baked a dozen apple and banana cakes. As well, I have Zoomed, Whatsapped and Skyped with friends and relatives in three continents; done lone aerobics while watching movies at least 20 times; and consumed two tubes of hand cream to appease my itchy and red hands due to over washing and sanitising. 

Prof Luke Smillie and Prof Nick Haslam, in their article  published in The Conversation on 9/04/20, have this to say:

  • Differences in extraversion-introversion emerge in early life are relatively stable over the lifespan. They influence how we respond to environments.
  •  In a recent study, extraverts and introverts were asked to spend a week engaging in higher levels of extravert-typical behaviour (being talkative, sociable, etc.). Extraverts enhanced their mood and feelings of authenticity. Conversely, introverts experienced no benefits and reported feeling tired and irritable.
  • Research shows people who are emotionally stable, self-reliant and autonomous, goal-oriented, friendly, patient and open tend to cope better in conditions of extreme isolation.
  • A counterpoint to the so-called loneliness epidemic is the study of “aloneliness”, the negative emotions many experience as a result of insufficient time spent alone. (Anthony Storr – “A return to the self, solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support, and the capacity to be alone is as much a form of emotional maturity as the capacity to form close attachments”).

Irrespective of personality differences, we should be patient yet purposeful, self-reliant but banding together, and optimistic thinking globally while acting locally. (The big five personality traits are openness, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness).

Let us continue to respect scientists’, medical professionals’ and sane governments’ advice on ways to stay safe and healthy.

No kisses and handshakes, declaration needed

Last March 11 at 10 AM in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, I witnessed an irresponsible act, which at other times would have been normal or even impolite not to do so in France. On the bus for work, a middle-aged man showed his monthly ticket to the driver, leaned to the woman sitting on the front and gave her two kisses on the cheek. (In France, depending where you are, kisses can be two, three or four). That same day, I heard on the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then there have been measures to combat its spread, such as lockdown, quarantine, testing, self-isolation and social distancing.

A week before the mandatory social distancing, business premises where I worked had already “no handshake” signs. If handshake was discouraged, obviously “kisses” too. It’s so obvious that they didn’t think there would be a need for “no kisses” signs, but there should have been because, pre-coronavirus pandemic, kissing was a form of greeting in many European workplaces, particularly in France.   

We’ve all experienced the “accidental” handshakes, hugs or cheek kisses during these times of the coronavirus.  Politicians, such as the US President Donald Trump, were seen shaking hands with several people during their press conferences and hospital visits. Mr Trump was reported to have said, “People come up to me, they shake hands, they put their hand out. It’s sort of a natural reflex, and we’re all getting out of it. All of us have that problem.”  (https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/15/how-the-new-coronavirus-could-change-our-behaviour?). There’s no excuse for social irresponsibility.

You have heard a lot how this virus originated in Wuhan, China last December, its victims, preventive measures, challenges for governments and health practitioners, etc… We have been advised to sanitise as often as possible, especially after touching money bills, guard or hand rails or light switches or lift buttons or anything that is touched by others in public places; no wonder supermarket and pharmacy shelves are still devoid of these products. Even alcohol bottles aren’t easy to find. We’re discouraged from stockpiling, but I bought enough supply of vinegar to last us for a year.  There is ample advice online on how to make the most of our time at home, from having a fitness routine to reading a book. I have opted to write a novel, and I am halfway through it . In France, we’ve to carry a declaration when we go out; the on-the-spot fine is 200 euros per violation.

Due to social distancing, almost all public gatherings have been cancelled. Why are elections being held during this pandemic? Why haven’t these been postponed? The March 15 city mayoral election in France was odd and a bit entertaining. Citizens had to hand sanitise before and after voting, then volunteers disinfected every pen used; there was a television crew filming them. Australia and the USA also had elections last March.

At home, space distancing (recommended 1.5 M) wasn’t easy, so we’d imposed time distancing instead. We ate at different times; after a while, however, we decided to space out the chairs and have meals together.  This pandemic has changed our individual habits, cultural ways, travel decisions, holiday preferences, etc.

My students found elbow or/and foot bumping fun as a replacement for handshake. I wonder if they’ll continue to do this when we resume classes (I don’t know when!). The majority of language teachers for adults are freelancers, i.e. they get paid when they work. So, you can imagine what this pandemic has done to our livelihood and the financial burden it has caused us.

Even in this gloomy situation, let’s practise patience, creativity, compassion, altruism across space and time. Even with time and social distances, we can still reach out, help and support each other in coping with all sorts of difficulties. 

If you fancy contributing to coronavirus research without leaving your home, read the March 27, 2020 issue of The Conversation https://theconversation.com/citizen-science-how-you-can-contribute-to-coronavirus-research-without-leaving-the-house-134238.

If you have a special skill, give lessons free of charge, e.g., meditation, yoga, music, cooking, gymnastic, aerobics and sewing via Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime.

Call, text or email relatives and friends regularly to show that you care for them. According to Dr C Singer, “human beings are social animals and our biological, psychological, and social systems evolved to thrive in collaborative networks of people. Some studies suggest that the impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as such risk factors as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking”. If you want to know more, check his and his colleagues’ research findings regarding the health effects of social isolation and loneliness on https://www.aginglifecarejournal.org/health-effects-of-social-isolation-and-loneliness/.

Let’s stay safe, healthy, patient, considerate, optimistic and responsible. We’re all in the same boat!  Worldwide statistics on infections and deaths continue to rise. (COVID-19 death rate in countries with confirmed deaths and over 1,000 reported cases as of March 31, 2020 by country https://www.statista.com/statistics/1105914/coronavirus-death-rates-worldwide/)

Take care.

Free and agreeable public transport

All buses, trains and trams are free in Luxembourg starting today, 1 March 2020!   As far as I know, it is the only country in the world that has free public transport.  It has slightly over 600,000 inhabitants in an area of 2,586 square kilometres. However, about 200,000 people living in France, Belgium and Germany cross the borders every day to work there; and I am one of them.

While the Luxembourgish government saves on the collection of fares and the policing of valid tickets, I have extra euros in my pocket (I only have to pay up to the border as required by the French government). Hat’s off to those who contributed to such environmentally-friendly decision (less private vehicles on the road). Of course, there are nayers to free public transport, and their reasons include the possibility of degradation of the property and condition of travelling due to rowdy people who are unlikely to be in paid transportation.

During the daily commute by bus from France to Luxembourg and back, it is always the same scenario. Some passengers who get into the bus first, occupy two seats: one for their body and the other for their belongings (e.g., bags, coats, etc.). In the beginning, I thought it was fun observing people walking up and down the aisles trying to find friendly faces to ask for seats. These days, I find this annoying and believe that if passengers want to occupy two seats, they should pay for two tickets and put a note on an unoccupied one with something like “I’ve paid for this seat because I can’t be bothered by your smell, telephone conversations, or light/image from your online activity,” or simply “I don’t like being close with another human being”.  

This morning, I took a double-decker bus and decided to be on the second level.  I had my work and lunch bags and jacket on a vacant seat next to the one I was occupying. There were three stops before I got off, so there were several people going up and down eyeing for seats.  As usual, when new passengers came in, I transferred my belongings to my lap.  It was only 7:30 AM, so the bus was not crowded and there two seats per person for the majority of us.  As expected, I had to carry a load of computer, books and lunch bag on my lap for more than one hour. Why did I have that discomfort and inconvenience when the women in front, behind and to my right had their small shoulder bags neatly rested on the vacant seats.  Honestly, I was hoping no one would see the empty seat next to me.  Why did I take my things away, which was surely interpreted as an invitation to sit? I also prefer to have two seats, like other passengers; however, my sense of courtesy and empathy are ahead of it.

Meanwhile, one of my fellow female passengers has become a friend. After saying “merci” (thank you in French), she added that the others pretended she was invisible and was pleased when she saw me smiling, as she knew instantly that she did not have to “beg” for a seat. Last December, she came to our house with her 17-year-old son for tea, and we enjoyed eating the home-made “Bredele au beurre” Christmas biscuits they brought.

Two of DH News Vancouver’s (Canada) 25 Public Transit Etiquettes (https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/the-top-20-public-transit-etiquette-rules-you-should-know-and-follow) are: “8. One seat per person is common etiquette, especially during peak hours and when the seats inside the vehicle are almost completely occupied; 9. Seats are for your bottoms only: keep your dirty shoes away from the seats – do not rest your feet on a seat.” We should have these etiquettes written on all public transports.