Having listened to COVID 19 news non-stop for the past six weeks, I have found myself drifting away from my typical interest in staying up to date. I am sure I am not alone in wondering whether anything else is going on in the world. Has the war in Syria been suspended? Have there been any earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes erupting anywhere?
I don’t blame the media for its focus on the pandemic. I acknowledge that my immediate family and I are very fortunate to be healthy. I don’t have parents in a facility of any sort; they are regrettably long gone. I also don’t live anywhere near Portaupique, Nova Scotia. I haven’t been touched by that tragedy, which, unfortunately, has been the only respite from news of the pandemic.
Where I have been spending much of my time, when not working, has been on trying to identify the changes or shifts I’ve noticed around me and how important this break with the pre-pandemic normal has been for many. The continuing stress that accompanies uncertainty at times like these is not good for anyone, but there are numerous positives. I’ll list a few:
- It’s a break from routine that has enabled surges in creativity, humour, engagement.
- Families have the opportunity to spend more time together.
- Digital literacy has improved, probably worldwide.
- Learning is taking place at home and creating new possibilities for educators and students.
- Numerous climate change positives have been enabled: less pollution from and reliance on individual vehicles; the air is cleaner; animals have returned to some natural habitats; the oceans and reefs have a chance to recuperate.
- Both famous and less famous celebrities are sharing music.
- Many apps, courses, and digital platforms are allowing free access which gives us all a chance to explore, discover and learn.
- Compassion and empathy appear to be on the rise.
- There is less emphasis on consumerism.
- Values and priorities are being re-examined, modified and changed.
- Relationships have developed over the internet.
- The Canadian government has shown itself to be listening to the population’s immediate needs economically and health-wise.
- The feds and the provinces are trustworthy.
- Gratitude for what we do have is appreciated and valued more.
I could go on, but the gist is that many outcomes have been favourable ones. Admittedly, this list comes from a place of privilege. It would look entirely different if I were living on the streets or didn’t know how I would pay for groceries or the rent.
Although we intellectually know about the socio-economic (and other disparities) among us, the pandemic has given the disparity a real face. I hope this reality has elevated concerns and provided greater incentives to make changes moving forward.
The other issue that has raised its ugly head in a way not witnessed before has been the blatant ageism that has surfaced. Everyone over the age of 60 has been labelled as elderly. We are vulnerable and targeted by COVID 19 or triaged out of the equation in some places. Those over 60 have been homogenized into one huge group of frailty.
It’s more than a shame that the truly vulnerable who are in care facilities have endured the greatest sacrifices of all. They deserve better. Their situations have been fraught with challenges for years and hopefully, the pandemic will have raised the profile of this dire health need as top priority.
But when the health crisis began, the call went out for older, retired medical professionals to return to hospitals, clinics, and other facilities. It was heartwarming to see how many answered the call despite the fact that being older meant they were at higher risk. I find it interesting that these same older adults are the ones being passed over when it comes to being hired for jobs in “normal” times. Their experience will help businesses and organizations recover after the pandemic. My hope is that this will be recognized by society at large and be seen as the advantage it is.
Canada has its skilled workforce in front of its eyes but isn’t seeing it. The will to shift the conversation about what it means to be older and how the older population can still contribute meaningfully and be productive hasn’t been there. Hopefully, the pandemic will help move the dial on ageism as well.