Early on in lockdown before Groundhog Day Syndrome had set in and we were still grappling with the full impact of COVID-19, there was a period where I, for one, started appreciating some of the positives of lockdown. The gorgeous blue skies were quiet as planes stopped flying, the roads were empty of traffic, everyone just appeared that bit more courteous and caring for each other. It just seemed (certainly in London) that lockdown had bought about a reminder of what we truly value.
At that time, I remember a conversation with a colleague where we were talking about this shift and, if this was the ‘new normal’ (which was very much the trend). During this conversation, I told my colleague was that my biggest fear at the time was whether we would quickly forget all the positives and we would just return to how it was before.
These thoughts have returned in the last few weeks as the Black Lives Matter Movement and the conversation around Diversity and Inclusion has become part of the everyday news cycle. These are two different subjects, Diversity and Inclusion and The Pandemic, but both fundamentally are societal and behavioural changing subjects which impact us all. However, my fear for both is that as time goes one, and everyday life intervenes, will the learnings and changes stick and become part of the fabric of everyday society thus becoming ‘normal’, or will we just revert back to previous form.
The question being asked is that even when we understand better ways of living, how to become better people, how to improve society, what needs to take place so that we, as flawed individuals don’t slip back into our everyday historical habits?
I want to stress this is in no way trying to say that best intentions and physical actions don’t occur, as I genuinely believe the human race want to improve but rather that routine and old habits are hard to break when things need to get done. Therefore, for actual change to happen two critical events must coincide.
Firstly, the goals need to be positive and not combative. For any movement or idea, the critical aspect is to gain a sizeable majority of people who are part of it. A sizeable majority created a feeling of belonging from a positive viewpoint rather than a guilt or failing. Change is always more likely when all concerned look towards it with positivity. I suppose the easiest comparison is change is more likely using the carrot to tempt rather than the stick to blame.
The second part is to break the large-scale change down into manageable goals. The great positivity from the start of lockdown was cleaner skies, less pollution and so on but if the expectation is now transport (planes, trains, cars etc) shouldn’t run like before, then people would feel this was not feasible for their every days lives or out of reach for them to influence. But moving the message to something tangible like walking to your local shop can help the environment is a practical small step that makes a difference. These bite size steps are also likely to be manageable for the majority.
One of the most embracing aspects of the Black Lives Matter Movement was that there was not an expectation to fundamentally change overnight. For those who cannot appreciate how their subconscious actions and behaviours are in-built prejudice, the message being delivered was not, generally, accusatory or grandstanding. In fact, the general understanding was rather to ask the question to acknowledge your ignorance, read a book, engage in the conversation. There was an appreciation that these small steps can open the door to real change and sustained impact.
And this is where we are now, we need to continue to encourage people to take small steps, whether it be related to the pandemic and society, Diversity & Inclusion or any other way in which we can be working together to improve society. Small continuous positive steps and engagement over long period of times are the true way to turn movements and ideas into the normal and part of everyday life.