Regular readers of this blog will notice that I am a collector of powerful quotes which drive new thoughts in me.
Martin Luther King once said: “Sometimes we have to prioritise other people’s hurt over ours”. Empathy – the ability to feel what another person is feeling from that person’s perspective – hasn’t really yet fully gripped us in this pandemic.
There are still too many business leaders putting their own interests above those of others and politicians are following in their path in a bid to generate credible noise for themselves, lest they be challenged for saying nothing. Newspapers are happy to give column space to celebrity restaurateurs to call new government measures stupid because it saves them doing so and being asked on whose behalf they make such claims.
When the say “where’s the science” behind the new move, we need to ask where the science is to trade to levels that cause more spikes. I feel sorry that operators are losing trade, seeing profits erode, and mostly for having to let people go. But we mustn’t become protectionist and develop a new “not in my back yard” view.
Andy Burnham may today be a local hero in Manchester but how does he know he’s doing the right thing by defying the restrictions he’s supposed to implement and how will he look if areas following the rules see a drop in cases and he sees a rise?
Atticus Finch, America’s greatest literary character in to Kill a Mockingbird, observed: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.”
So far, we’ve been walking round in the skin of angry businesspeople and the people whose livelihoods have been lost and that of course is truly dreadful.
But perhaps our empathy is being mis-directed. The instant negative reactions that get so much air and print time could quite possibly produce better longer-term support if we were to walk around in the skins of people dying of the virus and the skins of their loved ones. Are we at risk of creating more sufferers by thinking of our material worries or for those absurd protestors about curtailment on their freedom by having to wear a mask and not at the prospect of us not just losing our business or our jobs but from actually losing our lives?
Virus sufferers don’t write columns or go on marches. We’re not thinking enough about them and how we stop becoming one of them. We would get to a better place sooner if we did.
Iqbal Wahhab OBE is a London based entrepreneur who founded Tandoori magazine as well as The Cinnamon Club and Roast restaurants. He is Chair of EQUAL, a criminal justice action group and is a past High Sheriff of Greater London.