‘It is a time for honest self examination’

Marina da Gama resident Ian McCallum shares thoughts on the Covid-19 lockdown.

If nothing else, the Covid-19 pandemic has given humanity a chance to do some much-needed self reflection, and hopefully we’ll use it to emerge from lockdown a more caring, purposeful and humbled species, says Ian McCallum.

Ian, who stays in Marina da Gama, is a medical doctor, analytical psychologist and psychiatrist. He is a specialist wilderness guide, an author, poet, former Springbok rugby player and wildlife photographer, as well as a director of the Wilderness Foundation.

His award winning book, Ecological Intelligence – Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature, addresses the inter-connectedness of all living things and ultimately, the survival of the human animal.

His academic interests focus on evolutionary biology, human ecology and what we learn about ourselves from the wild.

Who better to ask for insights on lockdown anxiety, and how to approach this time of uncertainty?

“We are all recognising now that this is unprecedented time, and, in many ways, we all knew deep down that this had to happen,” Ian says.

“Nevertheless it has to be understood as a crisis which will allow – for those of us who are privileged enough to know where our next meal is coming from – some honest self examination where we can question our values, our priorities, ask some tough questions about those things we want to rush back to when things are normal again. Do we really want to go back to those?”

He says crisis reveals to us who we really are – and makes us have a good look at who the haves and have nots are, and at who – or what – holds your power.

He calls this an incredibly testing time for personal leadership and facing whether you have what it takes or not.

Much of people’s lockdown anxiety he attributes to grieving the loss of the way we previously functioned.

“Not that we could call that a living – but functioning.”

The crisis has, he says, brought to the fore a natural antidote to depression: activism.

“Never forget – it’s in our nature to serve. We are a social species; we are here to help one another.

“And it’s happening – whether it will be enough, remains to be seen, but the fact is, it is happening. All over.”

He says we can be grateful too that in President Cyril Ramaphosa we have somebody who speaks sense, unlike, he laughs, some “geniuses” across the Atlantic.

He heard someone say recently that they would rather die of Covid-19 than hunger, and he cautions South Africans to remember that “a hungry belly is a wild thing”.

“Consider also how important and honest the words ‘I don’t know’ really are. They are deeply honest. we don’t know how this thing is going to pan out – yes we are aware that this is a process, yes, I think we know in time life will go on; I also think we know pretty well it’s not going to go on the way it was before but we definitely do not know exactly how it will pan out.”

We need to be aware of the difference between optimism and hope, he says. Optimism is the belief everything is going to turn out well, hope is something very different.

“Hope is about doing the right thing, knowing that what you do makes sense, irrespective of how it turns out and then being surprised by the outcome.

“The hope we bring must come through our conversations, through our choice of words, through our sense of values, and we must have faith in those values.”

He asks us not to forget the power that comes from sharing experiences and emotions – at this moment, the entire world is experiencing lockdown.

“When people share similar fears as you, it makes you want to stand with and for that other individual. Now picture that, globally.”

It’s important to keep your sense of humour alive and have things to look forward to, he says, recalling the words of Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz. According to Frankl, those who survived were not the ones in perfect health, they were the ones who had a dream, a purpose for their lives.

“There are voices claiming this is exaggerated and we should treat it as a normal influenza,” says Ian.

“I just want to say, don’t be fooled by that – our medical health services are just not equipped for the exceptional rate of spread and particularly for those individuals who need hospitalisation. That is the difference.”

Covid-19, he says, has toppled any notions humans might still hold of being the apex of creation with some sort of control over the rest of nature.”We are being held to ransom by a microbe! Be just a little bit more humble.”