The brighter side: how altruism and community spirit could get us through a global crisis

If you leave your home to exercise at present, you’ll definitely feel the lack of life on the streets. What you might notice a little more, however, is that the people you do encounter are far friendlier than usual.

The UK as a whole is a very polite, yet moody, nation. If you’ve ever been on the London Underground then I need explain no futher. Sure, I will apologise to you if you accidentally walk into me, but will I say “hello” to you if we pass in the street? Maybe not.

There is a different atmosphere in the air right now, which feels more palpable than the collective anxiety and fear that radiates through our TV sets from 5pm onwards. It is one of a national and global community all experiencing the same hardships, and coming together despite being told to socially distance.

Are we just so contrarily-inclined, as Britons, to feel the need to come together when the Prime Minister tells us to stay away? I think not; the phenomenon has been noted all over the globe. What’s interesting is that ours is a country that has been so largely divided in its worldviews for many years, and now the drama of political dissonance has dissipated in the face of something far more serious.

Perhaps people are finally realising that, no matter who or which way you voted, we have a collective duty of care to the people living around us. This may have always been the case, but the fact has only been exacerbated by the spread of this deadly virus. Hundreds of thousands of us signed up to volunteer for the NHS just two days ago; over double the amount that Boris Johnson called for. That’s hundreds of thousands of people willing to put themselves on the frontline to protect what matters to us as a whole: our healthcare system, our doctors and nurses, and our vulnerable.

Thousands more have been working together to play their part in assisting during the crisis. From big businesses to small acts of kindness, there’s no shortage of community spirit here in Britain.

Supermarkets are prioritising NHS workers, the elderly, vulnerable, and carers by providing priority shopping hours.

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on

Supermarkets across the country have dedicated certain times for “at risk” citizens to collect their shopping, alongside prioritising NHS staff at allocated times. All major stores including Asda, Tesco, and Waitrose, have adopted the new policies to enable the working and vulnerable to have shopping time outside of busier hours.

Engineering Manager, Gareth Trufitt, posted an aide for those who might need to use these hours:

Gareth, who also works on the Editorial Tools team at The Guardian, said,

“I wanted to do something small to help ease the anxieties of vulnerable people and help the NHS heroes that are risking their lives to save us. I wanted to be a tiny part of the good that comes out in times like these to give balance to the selfish behaviour of some in our society.”

The website can be accessed via this link:

People who are not in vulnerable categories and currently not working have offered their services to people who are isolating, free of charge, all across the UK. A great number of young people have sent out letters offering to fetch groceries for people who are unable to shop themselves.

You only have to look at the replies to tweets like this from Dr Julia Leventon to see how willing and ready people are to help each other out.

At this very moment, there are helping hands in every corner of every neighbourhood, all over the world. During a time where we are all safer indoors, what makes us so determined to risk our health for our community?

Are we a global or national community facing this crisis?

The whole planet is facing the effects of the pandemic, and some people have argued that this unites us as a worldwide community, rather than simply within our own countries and cities. There is something true in the idea that we can feel a sense of affinity with others experiencing similar traumatic events, but we must question whether that can span countries and continents.

Perhaps, it is not necessarily the case that we all share a sense of responsibility to the world, rather, a combination of dedication to our immediate communities and our individual senses of altruism that will contribute to what may feel like one united, intercontinental front.

Sociologist, Eugene Nulman, shared his thoughts,

“Community spirit is a very tricky thing to understand because we are engaged in a range of communities that may not all overlap and the level of spirit within those can be different and change over time. I think in some ways community spirit is fostered through community leaders and the spirit necessitates an existing or newly acquired sense of community.”

Nulman believes that our collective response to the pandemic still only occurs at the level of the state,

“We can have a community spirit in our local contexts which helps mutual aid groups that have been forming to help vulnerable people or people who are self-isolating but often people are getting involved without knowing their local community very well, just as a means of helping in some way that they can.”

This indicates that some of us contributing to helping in the crisis are doing so out of a love for our communities, and others are bound simply by their own altruistic characteristics.

The examples of aid included above all support Nulman’s theories; almost every story is of people offering help locally. Yet, at a wider level, can donation to international organisations be explained away by altruism, or is there something to be said of people donating money to countries whose crisis management is far lower than our own? The state-imposed lockdown largely prevents many of us from helping anyone beyond our own neighbourhoods.

Of course, something must be mentioned of those who deliberately ignore curfews and social distancing rules, for whatever reason ,which certainly shows that those lacking community engagement and altruistic characteristics are not experiencing the same as many of us.

It is certainly a trying time, affecting all of us differently. Nevertheless, it can be argued that the sense of “togetherness” (whether globally or nationally felt) throughout the crisis is impossible to deny – I believe that the national clap for the NHS just last week proved at the very least a collective gratitude which, at it’s most basic level, unites us locally.

If you’re wondering what you can do to help your community, it’s as easy as logging onto and connecting with someone nearby who needs assistance, or posting a note through the doors of your neighbours.

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