When privilege trumps compassion and decency
Xxx has been feeling a little frustrated. Normally every year, she and her family head out to Europe from Sri Lanka for the summer vacation. However due to covid 19 lockdowns she was unable to travel in 2020. 2021 was also looking like a washout until things seemed to open up with the vaccinations in Sri Lanka and In Europe. It seems vaccinated people will be let into some parts of Europe with minial quarantine needed. When the vaccination process started in Sri Lanka in about May, xxx was able to use her family contacts with government ministers and be one of the first to be vaccinated even before it was rolled out to front line workers. Now it seems that xxx and her family can get that summer holiday in the uk after all, by heading to Serbia for 10 days before making it to their final destination of the uk. Flights are expensive and the whole trip is triple what has been spent before but in xxx’s mind its worth it as they haven’t been abroad since 2019.
Yyy’s son is getting married. The wedding was delayed from 2020 with the covid lockdowns so he is determined do it this year. Coming from a large family and with this wedding being the first in the family, he is determined to make sure it works. Given the Sri Lankan authorities have put a 150 person limit on weddings, he decides to have three events scattered in three different hotels to ensure he is able to have the guests. As inter provincial travel is prohibited he decides to have a bigger function at his village as he is able to travel because he has a pass based on his work. Because it is a rural area, the requirements for physical distancing and event numbers are not strictly followed and so he is able to have a 1000 people attend the wedding.
Now these stories might seem far from reality, but the sad fact is that they happened in Sri Lanka and I personally know these people. And I am shocked. Not because life should cease because of the pandemic. But somehow there is a tone deaf disconnect from a reality; a reality where daily wage earners are suffering from a drop in work and income; a reality where people with no connections or influence have been queueing for hours to get vaccinated; where people are struggling to make ends meet; where they are not able to get access to private medical care or oxygen.
What shocks and saddens me is that somehow these two anecdotes (which was normal in times before covid) seems to be continuing during times of covid as if things hadn’t changed. The sadness comes from the fact that there seems to be an oblivious (in the case of xxx) and a callous (in the sense of yyy) disregard of people and their lived experience. In the sense of the former, it is just a disregard that not everyone is able to afford holidays or even think about the money to be spent. For the latter there is a callousness of irresponsibility: an irresponsibility of putting people in the rural areas who are not vaccinated at risk from the disease; an irresponsibility of putting people who attended the weddings at risk, the waiters and everyone. The irresponsibility is made worse by the utter selfishness that somehow, doing weddings is more important than saving people’s lives or keeping people safe. This selfishness that despite people suffering economically, we are able to go on ‘as normal’, has been there but somehow become more magnified during covid.
This selfishness comes from a position of priviledge and power that hitertho had existed but seems to have been made worse by COVID 10 which has exacerbated inequalities and vulnerabilities. What we are seeing through these anecdotes is that whilst people have been all affected by the lockdowns, the effect of these lockdowns have varied and some have been more affected than others. Yet in that, there is still a lesson that has not been learnt and that is of compassion and the wish to treat others as you wish to be treated. Power and priviledge seems to trump compassion and we have seen that. Compassion has not been there when people have looked for vaccinations and tried to compete for that. Compassion is not there when large weddings are conducted putting unvaccinated and vaccinated people at risk; compassion is not there when people choose to continue their holidays and lives oblivious of the others suffering.
Sadly this is the reality we live in and as the anecdotes I have shared have shown, priviledge trumps compassion and decency. If we need to learn from what covid has taught us about the fagility of life and the interconnectedness of us all, we will have to trump priviledge.