Observatory: Thandizo Kawerama

What do you do when the world you once knew changes overnight? When the avenues that led to your life aspirations shut down right before your very eyes? The natural response is to grieve. You want to mourn the loss of what was familiar and what we held dear. Perhaps it was a job you lost or an opportunity that has been postponed indefinitely (a tale very familiar during these times.) Losing what you had or what you aspired to obtain can be crippling, and unfortunately has a ripple effect. It leads to loss of income, mental health challenges and puts the socio-economic status of the individual at risk. We are more familiar with loss in a social context, but when you lose your spot in the system that keeps the economy running there is very little consolation let alone recognition for that type of trauma.

From people who worked for decades to build their careers, to new graduates who had hopes of joining the workforce, no one is safe from the unfriendly tides of the year 2020. Every demographic has been left wide open to job losses, budget cuts and lost opportunities. However, these changes don’t occur in a vacuum. People don’t just receive bad news and keeping it moving, there are emotions attached whether people want to admit to it or not. These emotions are only amplified by the fact that regardless of how we are feeling, the world, and the economy, will move on without us.

Bills still need to be paid, companies need to adapt to new challenges, there’s no rest for the weary. To stop and take time for yourself is a set-up to be replaced by the next person who is itching for your spot. Our society thrives off of continuous productivity. This system is not made to accommodate struggle whether it be mental or physical. It is designed to keep going even when the human beings that maintain it are desperately crying out for help.

The ethical implication of a societal system that lacks compassion for the very humans that keep it running has been discussed on various platforms. Healthy people cannot be expected to develop in a system that thrives off of the negligence of human compassion, and endorses competition at every juncture. In an idealistic world, things would look much different from what we see today. But unfortunately such a perfect world does not exist. Our reality is very much rooted in people having to neatly pack away their feelings, and carry on being productive to help contribute to the communities we are born into.

That unfortunately means we can no longer expect our system to make room for the emotional stability that we need. Not because we are not deserving of it, but rather because we have been shown time and time again that emotional needs are not prioritized when it comes to keeping our society pumping and moving forward.

We have no choice but to meet productivity goals while somehow shelving any internal struggles that may be weighing us down. This forced division between what is needed and what has to be done forces us to exist in the awkward space between being productive and taking time to recuperate.

If the system is not equipped to take care of the mental health needs of the people within it, we have no choice but to take the reins of our own lives and steer ourselves in the direction we wish. This does not mean dropping everything in the name of self-care, but rather moving forward with goals despite setbacks.

Being able to compartmentalise grief and trauma and separate it from obligations and responsibilities is a luxury many are unable to afford. In fact, it actually brings us back to the same thing that they system requires from us, separation of the emotional state from productivity.

But once again that circles back to ethical foundations that have allowed for the state of the society we live in today. It would take years of dismantling and reconstructing to create the utopia where the balance between mental health and productivity is respected. However, in the meantime we have to make do with the cards we are dealt and strike a balance on an individual level that hopefully one day will be expressed on a systemic level.