A lesson in humanity

Isla Prentis, The MediaShop

We keep hearing that everyone is in the same boat. But it’s really not like that. We are in the same storm yes, but we are not in the same boat. Your ship can be shipwrecked and mine may not. Or vice versa.

The text above was the beginning of a social media post about COVID-19 but when I read it, it reminded me of life in 2020 – even prior to the global pandemic we find ourselves in at the moment. Not being in the same boat remains a universal truth – and COVID-19 is probably the most far reaching storm the world has seen in recent history. The storm and boat analogy has so many different layers but for the purpose of keeping this to the length of a blog, and not a book, I’m going to focus on the reality we face in South Africa – both in and out of lockdown.

So often during lockdown it has been those in metaphorical luxury yachts that have found loopholes or excuses to not comply while those in basic canoes sacrifice their livelihood to comply. So many complained about the crowding in Alexandra in the first week of lockdown (to use just one example) but did those people complaining and judging stop to think about the crowds’ circumstances? The complainants might have been part of the crowds that emptied Woolworths’ shelves just a few days earlier (panic pantry loading – with not a care for anyone else they are impacting) – but have they even known what it is like to have an empty fridge, and an empty wallet? Have many of our citizens even imagined what they would do if they had nothing left and only got paid as lockdown was setting in? Have they ever known what it’s like to be truly hungry, truly desperate?

The below image was the front page of Time magazine about a year ago. It was described as a visualisation of the unequal scenes we see in South Africa. While the specific image is of Primrose alongside Makause, it’s an image that is all too true throughout our country. Our Gini coefficient is one of the highest in the world – in other words, we are a dual economy – our inequality is described as persistent. In marketing (not just media), it is our job to walk in someone else’s shoes to understand what their life is like. Remember it is not a target audience – it is a group of human beings each in their own unique boat. And actually this is something that every single South African should do. Take the time to walk in someone else’s shoes to understand the life they live, the challenges they face – not because of COVID-19 but every single day.

We all have a choice no matter the situation. We can choose to give in, or we can choose to keep fighting and find an opportunity. We can choose to support and help, or we can choose to take advantage. We can choose to judge others, or we can choose to understand. I love hearing the many stories of people supporting feeding schemes, local businesses, and the all-round Ubuntu spirit! But it saddens me that there are just as many stories of judgement and negativity.

After all, humanity should be something we focus on from the day we are born until the day we die – it should certainly not be something newly discovered because of COVID-19. Humanity is what will differentiate us in the 4th industrial revolution – it should be seen as a strength, something we actively grow within ourselves. But let COVID-19 do this for us – let it act as a reminder that in the rat race that we live in, we neglect basic humanity and become self-absorbed. Let it remind us to stop and think of someone else. Next time you are going to judge someone else’s behaviour – stop and think about what boat they might be in. And next time you choose your own rules, think about the impact it has on the storm (and the impact on less luxurious boats weathering the storm). We say that in the upcoming decade brands are going to have be more human to connect so now is the time to for an evolution if you’re not yet thinking about the humanity of your brand.

I leave you with a final thought. Rather than using the time to complain about how tough life is in lockdown, use the time to learn about someone else’s hardships (either on a personal level or of the human audience you are trying to reach), to understand, to help where you can and to grow your humanity. And one day when life returns to “normal”, or at least a new normal – don’t forget the humanity that lockdown taught you. We’re all in the same storm.

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