We are social animals, as Aristotle said. So how will we stop getting lonely and crazy as we distance ourselves socially and self-isolate?
Well, our first motto should be: “Don’t waste a crisis!” If we are imaginative, we will find silver linings in these very dark clouds.
We can experiment with new ways of living. These won’t just help us cope with the emergency.
Practices that are less materialistic and more meaningful will help us live in harmony with our planet too.
Here are 10 ideas I’m trying:
Virtual coffees, lunches and dinners
A friend who was supposed to come to dinner said she had a sore throat. So we ate in our respective homes while communicating over video. I’m going to do the same with a friend who has cancer. I have no reason to suppose I have the virus. But why risk infecting him just as he’s about to go back into hospital?
Sing and dance
The Italians are keeping their spirits up by singing from their balconies. But they don’t have a monopoly on bel canto. My sore-throated virtual dinner companion and I sang O Sole Mio to each other. Next time I’m going to suggest remote dancing. Friends in Italy are already using an app called House Party to have virtual parties.
On yer bike
Public transport isn’t safe. So for short distances, why not walk? And for middling distances, why not bike? It’s also a good way to keep fit.
Trudging to a sweaty gym is out. So I’m doing yoga and meditation at home. But it’s also nice to practice with others. So I’ve also suggested that my yoga teacher organises virtual classes. Again, they’re already doing that in Italy.
We need to get out of the house or we’ll get cabin fever. Walking is great for clearing the mind as well as staying fit. Walking while talking means you stay socially connected too. Your friend can be two metres away; but they can also be on the end of a line.
Time to reflect
Most people’s lives are dictated by routines: take the kids to school, rush to work, endless emails, get home, crash. Or, as the French say: “Metro, boulot, dodo” (tube, work, sleep). The rat race isn’t great. But sitting around home twiddling our thumbs won’t be much fun either. So we need new routines.
Every morning, I write for an hour in my diary about whatever comes into my mind. That organises my thoughts for the day. Every evening, I write down at least three good things that happened that day – and why they were meaningful. These habits provide bookends to my day and help me make the most of what happens in between.
Deepen our friendships
Much of the time, we’re too busy to think deeply about our friends and family. But now we’ll have more time. We can use some of it to think about what our loved ones really need and then help them get it… remotely.
Reach out, but don’t touch granny
Too many old people are lonely. We can use some of that extra time to keep in touch with them. The old AT&T ad said: “Reach out and touch someone.” That’s a good motto, but don’t take it literally. Touch them virtually. Teach your mum and dad to use WhatsApp, House Party and Skype – and to order shopping online. They may love becoming digitally empowered.
Virtual book groups
People will also have time to read. But that can be a lonely activity – and we get more intellectual stimulation if we share our ideas with others. When I finish a book, I type out my takeaways and send them to friends to provoke discussion. Why not go further and organise virtual book groups?
Connect with far-away friends
Just because you’re not in the same room doesn’t mean you can’t have a deep friendship. Indeed, the virus offers an opportunity to connect with those who live far away. After all, if you are distancing yourself physically from others, it doesn’t matter whether they are in London, Kolkata or Milan. The more we reach across the world and show we care for one another, the more we’ll help defeat that other terrible virus: nationalism.
Other people will have different ideas about how to make the most of this ghastly crisis. We can all experience the pleasure of inventing and experimenting with new ways of living.
What’s more, most of these ideas won’t involve spewing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. So if we come up with a new culture that is less frazzled and more meaningful, we’ll be in better shape to face that other giant challenge: how to stop our planet frying.
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