I hate being told what to do. I always have. Maybe I was spoiled as a child, or am too much of a stubborn Libran. Perhaps it is because I am millennial — the root cause of most bad things. After all, we are a generation who have been brought up to believe we can do anything we want. And while it hasn’t all been plain sailing — we entered the job market after the 2008 crash, we endured a decade of austerity — we still happily partake in a culture of determined individualism. Just take a scroll through Instagram.
Right now, we are all being told what to do, all of the time (although admittedly, for large groups of people that advice is still confusing). Somewhere between the government’s U-turning, the countless experts in newspapers and on TV, and those on Twitter who have taken it upon themselves to offer public service announcements, life has felt like it is on pause until the next press conference, tweet or comment for a ‘senior government source’.
Clearly, I’m not the only one who doesn’t like being told what to do, especially when it comes to social distancing. For many in this country, taking government advice is a luxury when you have to go out to work to earn money to pay for rent and feed your children. But that is not the case for others. Walk around my neighbourhood (where a lot of millennials live) and you’ll spot groups of people in the pub or having lunch in the local restaurants. Further afield, we’ve seen people congregating in packed out beaches in Florida, honky tonks in Nashville and arenas in Manchester. Obviously, millennials are by no means the only culprits: there are also the boomer parents who think their Blitz Spirit will beat the virus. But arguably youth’s faith in its own invincibility, when entwined with a sense of entitlement, is particularly problematic.
Which poses a problem in light of a report from scientists at Imperial College London, whose mathematical modelling has found that suppression, China’s lock-down approach, is what is needed to control the virus and curb the death toll. According to the report “a minimum policy for effective suppression is population-wide social distancing, combined with home isolation of cases and school and university closure. To avoid a rebound in transmission, these policies will need to be maintained until large stocks of vaccines are available – which could be 18 months or more.”
This means, therefore, a continued line in being told what to do and a society-wide reliance on long-term sacrifices made by younger people.
While I’d like to believe everyone was selfless and committed to a greater cause (when they can afford to be) the numbers of people in the pub in Peckham on an evening right now might suggest otherwise. And so a friction will inevitably start to rub, one that perhaps taps into an already simmering generational divide, seen in things like Brexit and the election. As Times journalist Andrew Ellson wrote on twitter “if the best predictions science can muster are true, the biggest challenge facing the government is the huge mismatch between who must pay for the cost of coping with the virus against who benefits. We already have a society divided by age. Prepare for that to get much worse.”
If society is calling on us to make the sacrifices for the long haul, we have to find a source of strength and motivation that can keep us going.
Yet however upset over Brexit you might be, I vehemently believe in behaving like a responsible adult in an unprecedented public health crisis, especially if you’re privileged enough to have a job that allows you to work from home. Which means we have to find a way forward, and for me, the route through these strange times is taking ownership in what you are doing, and what you can enjoy, instead of fixating on the opposite.
For the first time, possibly ever, I’m working through my New Yorker, cover to cover, and that is bringing me a surprising amount of satisfaction. When we sit in our little garden as the sun comes out, the warmth on our skin feels hopeful. Last night we watched an old ITV Poirot. It was comforting in its certainty, reassuring in its familiarity, joyful in its detachment from reality. Every time I change the water in the tulips, I wonder if there is a name for that precise shade of dusty purply-pink.
Social distancing means a re-focus on what is in our homes, and what is in our capabilities when the outside world is harder to reach. It means looking at the same things in different ways. A couple of weeks ago I felt overwhelmed at the thought of attending a friend’s art show because I had a big trip planned and still had lots to organise. Now I can’t go on the trip or attend the show and I wonder why on earth I would have missed such a joyful occasion. I hope when we’re out the other side, we remember how we felt. Perhaps we will confront another millennial trait — our delight in cancelling plans and staying in. Funny how quickly a luxury can feel like a chore when you are being told what to do.
This might be a test for a generation. If society is calling on us to make the sacrifices for the long haul, we have to find a source of strength and motivation that can keep us going. Learning to look outside ourselves, as well as finding comfort and value in the things we take for granted, recognising the vast privileges the majority of us normally enjoy so thoughtlessly, might be a silver lining to the long, overcast days ahead.