I’m writing this during the global pandemic of COVID-19 in 2020. There is confusion, loss of normality, people are hysterically buying groceries; there is fear as death tolls rise, we are forced to physically isolate and the vulnerable are hit the hardest. I have very suddenly witnessed how thin the veneer of civilisation is.
The past couple of weeks have really made me think about what it means to be civilised. The adjective ‘civilised’ is one that describes the opposite of barbarity, and a civilised society is one that is socially and technologically advanced. But in the current circumstances, I wonder if our race to advancement, our cheap flights, our same-day-delivery lifestyle, our heavily filtered reality, our hyper-connectivity and thirst for productivity have made us more civilised, or closer to barbarity… Our hunger for fuel consumes the earth’s resources, we have lost the skills of our own hands to devices, and we find ourselves more concerned about our wi-fi connections than real human connections. This surely cannot be the peak of civilisation.
As a Muslim, my faith obliges me to refrain from hurting another by word or action. In Islam, civilised behaviour encompasses both moral and physical aspects. The five daily prayers require you to wash your hands as part of ablution. This is interesting to me as the act of hand washing has been one of the key fighters of the spread of COVID-19. I hope that in times like this we become open to educating ourselves about other communities and to discovering the hidden wisdoms they hold.
Society has been stripped back to the bare necessities and ’simple’ acts have become life changing. As I watch the refuse collectors take our bins, the shop workers restocking the shelves, it becomes obvious to me that the most civilised of us are those who are caring for others. The people who in moments of panic, create calm. The doctors on the front line of the pandemic have urged us to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus. Lockdown itself has been an act of unity and care, and whilst doing that we have shown what it is to be a civilised society.
Creating has become an essential form of self-care during this time. Being forced to stay indoors has allowed us to slow down and look inwards. Social media has shown a surge in baking, cooking, sewing, writing and more. As civilisation has come to a halt, I have seen that we as individuals have small powers within us to bring out the best of a situation. Maybe in the future we can read the poetry and view the art from these times to ground ourselves, and be reminded of how close we are to the edge of civilisation.