The four essential values we relied on last year – and forget now at our peril


With the gradual easing of restrictions, we are all being faced with questions of “how”. How are we going to manage the “new normal”? How are we going to navigate the months ahead? How are we going to feel in all these unfamiliar situations?

These are not easy questions to answer. We have never experienced anything like the pandemic and we can’t begin to know how we will feel as we re-engage with the world outside our front doors. We have been through so many changes and had so much uncertainty that we can feel a bit disoriented and a bit lost. And we can feel anxious.

“Will everything be OK?” is what we all want to know.

Science provides us with some comfort. Cutting-edge science, innovation and technology have provided us with, hopefully, brighter horizons. It is easy to forget that just a few months ago, we didn’t know if there would even be one vaccine for coronavirus, let alone several. And science will obviously continue to play a crucial part for many years to come.

But we must not forget that we have another string to our bow as we move out of lockdown. It’s tempting to focus only on the complex and the complicated, with the result that the more basic stuff often gets overlooked.

Running alongside the science is the importance of “old-fashioned” human values. And it is these values that will help us feel more comfortable and confident as we navigate the next few months.

I recently went back to my gym after precisely 421 days away from it. I had a mixture of excitement and anxiety. What would it be like? How would things work? Would I feel OK? I have worked as a GP in A&E during the pandemic, so I was really surprised how nervous I felt. But I realised that it was because going back to the gym was a choice I was making, not part of my work. And because, of course, I’m human, with feelings just like everyone else. Yet I actually loved every minute of being back in the gym, and that was because at every stage of my visit basic human values were involved.

We need to bring these values back into the conversation. They are often seen as old-fashioned, put in the corner and ignored. But we need to get them trending again.

By this I simply mean consideration and showing a sense of regard for others – and ourselves. As we open things up more, we need to remain cautious, careful and responsive. We need to respect the science of the virus and make sure we are all doing what we can to help. Respect the changes that have been put in place in the gym or the restaurant, respect the staff who have to put them in place and respect our friends’ or family members’ decisions about what they feel comfortable doing. Respecting ourselves by voicing what we need and what we do or do not feel comfortable doing is part of our mental and emotional wellbeing as we readjust.

Be patient with yourself and others as we all try to re-engage. Every one of us has been through a huge amount, but in very different ways. It is going to take time to build trust in new situations, and it is going to take time to re-establish connections and relationships. Go at your own pace and choose the activities that are priorities for you. You don’t have to do it all at once. It will take time to process the life-changing events that we have been through.

When we are able to open up about how we feel and tell people what we are worried about or what we have been through, they will also be more likely to do the same. In the shared global experience of the pandemic, we have all had unique challenges and changes. Yet the universal feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, disorientation, grief and loss provide us with an opportunity to connect more deeply with each other. It is easy to get distracted and to push these feelings down but if we all take the time and space to be honest with ourselves and others about who we are and how we feel, we really can start to re-engage meaningfully.

Showing each other kindness will help all of us to feel more confident in getting out there again. Kindness was something we were all talking about a lot last spring. But are we still talking about it? Are we still giving people a wave or a smile? Are we still remembering to check in on our neighbours? Are we still saying thank you to frontline workers? If someone shows you kindness when you are making that first trip back to your gym or favourite restaurant, then you are more likely to feel OK about doing it again.

In all these ways and at all these levels, these basic human values will help us to feel comfortable in getting back to doing the things we love and have so desperately missed. They make up the very fabric of community, and enable us to talk about what we all need as humans.