Academic Articles

Ubuntu 4.0: Pandemic-sized acts of kindness during COVID-19

Apr 23, 2020 | By Ashley Motene

Social distancing does not need to mean a social disconnection from showing kindness. We can appreciate what the 4IR looks like during the lockdown.  Could this, however, be an opportunity to find out what Ubuntu 4.0 and kindness could also look like for the sake of collective wellbeing?

When Ubuntu 4.0 meets inequality needs

With global statistics giving rise to feelings of overwhelm and new daily complexities, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is psychosocial and emotional as it is physical and economical. In our South African context, it may seem like we are somewhere between coping as a nation and unsure of how much of this new normal we can take. We may be at different places individually based on how the pandemic has affected us so far. By just looking at other countries further into their lockdowns, in our own communities and in our families, “easy” does not describe the human experience. There may be a need to be kinder to ourselves and each other as the spirit of Ubuntu, that we have sought to ingrain into our society, is greatly tested.

“You are only as protected as the least protected person in our community” – Graeme Codrington (Futurist, TomorrowToday)

In South Africa, there are many barriers to a better quality of life. Many people are unable to properly access human rights like education, healthcare, safety, meaningful work or dignified recognition if marginalised. Secure housing that won’t be demolished or food are not easy to get, as we see how some can afford to stockpile whilst others desperately need to queue for food parcels risking COVID-19 infection or law enforcement enquiries along the way. The multiple effects of the current pandemic seem to have magnified these vulnerabilities of inequality present in our society, considering that the government has needed to provide a R500bn relief plan, as announced by President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa in his national address on 21 April 2020. Whilst these billions are geared at helping as many people as possible to survive the lockdown and live beyond it, this is in addition to earlier efforts.

The call for acts of kindness as expressed by the President, could not be any louder during this pandemic. It is an astounding time that has seen encouraging acts of kindness by staying at home, by essential workers, healthcare workers, psychology professionals, businesses, NPOs, NGOs, educators, communities and individuals in many villages, cities and townships.

South Africa’s history reveals how the enduring spirit and resilience stitches our social fabric together; cut and shaped by collective traumas such as apartheid and pandemics like HIV/Aids or gender-based violence. Nations are changing as we see COVID-19 altering our reality in ways that should shift us towards kindness all the more.

Keeping hope alive through acts of kindness

Some people may find it difficult to see hope beyond the current reality or show kindness in light of lockdown restrictions. However, in a recent article (by Daniel Gallan which Prof Garth Stevens and Nomfundo Mogapi contributed to) on collective trauma and post-traumatic growth associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the following excerpt captured the essence of kindness from an applied psychology and mental health perspective:

“Communities with high degrees of social efficacy are more likely to experience post-traumatic growth as opposed to internalising its suffering as chosen trauma. The need for social distancing creates a barrier in this regard, of course, but there are small measures we can do for the greater good. ‘One of the things about managing anxiety is that it is so internally focused,’ says Stevens. ‘We try to manage it ourselves. It is crucial then to divert attention and energy outward. This is not altruistic. In doing so we are part of the galvanising process. We help ourselves by helping others.’ Mogapi adds, ‘This will help flatten the curve of the mental health effects…Our research shows that when you help others, it increases your own levels of mental wellness. Those who have experienced a traumatic event heal together. Our sense of meaning is elevated when this occurs.’”

It has been inspiring to observe what digitally initiated acts of kindness have looked like during this time for via various platforms, some examples include the Global Citizen virtual concert, Mental Health support forums such as The Counselling Hub or SADAG, Professional bodies, the Solidarity Fund, Browniepoints.Africa, GoodThingsGuy, LinkedIn, Initiatives like Malaika Mahlatsi’s, creative artists in SA, Facebook neighbourhood forums, free online resource platforms and student support platforms including Voices Unite in educational sectors.

What can pandemic-sized kindness look like?

How much better it would be to continue getting through this pandemic with Ubuntu and Bopelonomi (A Setswana word for ‘gracious generous kindness’), feeling freer to sacrifice some comfort and energy to help others whilst still acting responsibly in the interest of our physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Acts of kindness from home can include:

  • Sharing kind words of encouragement,
  • Sharing your feelings of collective vulnerability with others,
  • Sharing extra food, clothes or data (some NGOs have permission to collect from homes),
  • Sharing info on where to find coping & de-stressing resources or free counselling services,
  • Sharing links for free learning resources useful to students and learners,
  • Sharing accountability for this pandemic-sized kindness that requires all of our actions.

Compassion fatigue may creep in for some, considering the extent of the needs to be met out there. Associated feelings of indifference to appeals for help may understandably be brought on by overwhelming personal situations requiring self-care prioritisation, others’ disheartening attempts to take advantage of kindness or frustrations linked to resource allocation. Reconsidering the intentions behind giving has sparked online conversations about the appropriateness of taking photos when carrying out acts of kindness; whether it is for vanity or to visibly encourage others to also give in charitable ways.

Once we have each reasoned squarely with this new normal, may we wrestle with our own hearts to act on opportunities to help because “Also highly contagious is kindness, patience, love, enthusiasm and a positive attitude. Don’t wait to catch it from others. Be the carrier (of kindness)” (SIOPSA quote).

Written by: Ashley Motene (Industrial Psychologist I PS 0130826)

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