The coronavirus pandemic seems to be bringing out both the best and the worst of society, with local communities rallying around to help the most vulnerable while people are ransacking supermarket shelves in a frenzy of panic buying.
In our work with young people, we continually impress upon them the need to be both sustainable and resilient, two skills that we all need in abundance right now. A person who truly understands the meaning of sustainability would never purchase things they do not need, such as panic-buying toilet rolls in quantities that will last them through to 2025. They would understand that the supply of things they need is not at peril, and that empty shelves in local shops are not caused by an absence of supply, but by unnecessary and socially irresponsible hoarding. They would have been able to show the resilience we are all being asked to demonstrate right now.
Depending on the sector they work in the panic-buyers may fear, quite reasonably, that they could lose their livelihood in the coming months (if they haven’t already), and so stockpiling while they have the cash may seem reasonable to them. Yet, at best, this signals a lack of resilience and, at worst, it is an act of social irresponsibility that only leads to further problems, as the key workers we are all relying upon find themselves unable to buy the staples they need.
It is quite possible that this crisis is going to change our lives forever, and it is impossible to say with any degree of accuracy, what those changes will look like in six months or a year from now. There are, however, two things that are clear: firstly, that from now on we need to prepare everyone for the challenges of building sustainable lives in a period of great turbulence; and secondly, that we need to ensure that our communities and individuals are resilient enough to manage those challenges.
Society can only work to its greatest potential if its citizens have been equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to manage their lives effectively. While we try to cope in this new period of self-isolation and lockdowns, we need to remember not only to show compassion and consideration for others but also that we all have a duty to help educate our communities, to ensure that we are all capable of doing the right things at the right time. Failure to learn from this experience, and to develop the essential skills we all need, will be unforgivable, and potentially calamitous.