Navigating a way out of pandemic polarisation

DIFFICULT: The pandemic has brought out the best and worst of us as Australians. Picture: Gordon Best/Shutterstock
DIFFICULT: The pandemic has brought out the best and worst of us as Australians. Picture: Gordon Best/Shutterstock

Exhausted. Fatigued. Unmotivated. Withdrawn. Pandemic fatigue is very real, and it is being felt by many of us the world over.

Life over the last 18 months has been hard. No ifs, ands or buts.

As we approached the end of 2020, we held up New Year's Day as some sort of beacon, lighting the way to an improved world.

We seemed convinced that somehow passing the midnight hour on December 31, 2020 would right everything wrong with the world and COVID-19 would evaporate into a memory.

However, this didn't happen; yet another New Year's resolution that has fallen by the wayside.

It's easy to fall into a spiral of despair over the state of affairs in Australia.

The news never brings any form of relief and social media is filled with angry people on all sides, frustrated about being locked down, desperate for freedom and clashing over how to get it back.

Prior to March 2020, comparing our Western society to others across the world would leave us feeling relatively free.

But, the thing is, we've never truly been "free". Freedom itself is a comparative illusion, and the liberties we are afforded always come at a price.

Theoretically we enjoy freedom of election, assembly and political participation. Freedom of speech, expression and religious belief, education and health, from discrimination, from violence, and protection from arbitrary incarceration, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as declared in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.

However, rightly or wrongly, all of these things are conditional, and they are inconsistently protected across Australian states and territories.

It has been confronting to see Victoria Police seemingly patrolling Melbourne in full riot gear, clashing with citizens.

Curfews imposed and movement restrictions so heavily enforced are shocking. It's been new to us to be unable to cross state lines, visit loved ones, have weddings, say goodbye at funerals or even attend school.

The pandemic has brought out the worst of us.

We have defied new public health orders and have protested without masks or social distancing; we have seen elderly women pushed to the ground and capsicum sprayed by those who are meant to be protecting us; we have seen people march to Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance and urinate on it.

However, the pandemic has also brought out the best of us. We have turned out in the thousands to be vaccinated or undergo COVID tests; we have stayed inside; shared food and supplies; and shown gratitude for the little things in life, like sunshine.

Watching the news, it is easy to reflect on our society and see only disaster and chaos, cruelty and selfishness.

But what I see most is panicked despair.

People are scared, they are frustrated, they are tired and they worry about whether these liberties that we have enjoyed for so long will ever be returned.

If anything, the last 18 months have demonstrated just how little faith we have in our state and federal governments.

We seem to believe that if we give an inch, we'll lose a mile and never get it back.

We are driven by a seemingly collective fight/flight response that has thrown us either into the streets to fight for our deteriorating freedoms, or caused us to retreat behind locked doors to protect ourselves from the virus.

We question whether our government is trying to trick us with the vaccine, to control us by imposing curfews, to create a two-tier society through vaccination mandates, to divide us into law-abiding "sheep" and law-defying "rebels".

And, throughout it all, the underlying theme has been to really reveal just how little faith we have in our elected leaders to do the right thing by us.

We are tired. We are scared. We are stressed. We are distrustful. This is a pressure-cooker ready to blow.

The only way to avoid the impending explosion is for our political factions to stop squabbling and needling each other and to actually work together for the betterment of our whole nation.

Pandemics always end.

We need a clear pathway out of the COVID-fog that transcends politics and for once, for the love of all that is holy, that puts the people first.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocate at impressability.com.au.

Twitter: @ZoeWundenberg

This story Navigating a way out of pandemic polarisation | Zoë Wundenberg first appeared on The Canberra Times.