At the outset, I must clarify, that I don’t intend to compare the covid-19 pandemic to the Second World War, nor am I equating Anne Frank’s situation to lockdown. But between March and May 2020, I couldn’t help but think of her.
Whilst I was in Geneva at the time, my family was based in Spain. For two months, they were in complete lock-down; allowed to leave the house to buy groceries from the nearest store only on occasion. And a similar situation was paralleled in many parts of the world.
They were asked to put their lives on hold and stay inside; told that it would only last for two weeks. It went on for two months. For many, it was crowded and claustrophobic. For others, it was lonely and exasperating. For most, it was unproductive and overwhelming.
This pandemic has caused many of us to reflect on the world; the fragility of it and the fragility of us. I wondered whether maybe this was the universe telling us that we had taken things too far.
I thought: maybe there are rare plants in hidden parts of the world, and species of fish in the unexplored depths of the ocean; unfamiliar creatures that hold the answers we’re looking for. Maybe one day we’ll discover that we rendered extinct a rare bird that carried a precious oil on its feathers that could cure psoriasis, or that the seeds of an extinct species of plant could cure cancer for good.
I think Anne Frank could have been one of those rare and precious creatures that fell victim to humanity. At the age of just 12 years old, she carried a perspective, wise beyond her years. And I think that her words carry a special meaning this year.
In July 1942, Anna Frank and her family went into hiding from the Nazis, who had by then occupied the Netherlands. For two years, she lived in a secret annex that could only be accessed through a ‘portal’ behind a revolving bookcase in her father’s business premises. During this time, her family of four shared this annex with another family and one other man. They lived in complete silence and in the dark to avoid raising suspicion.
Her life was placed on hold because her survival literally depended on it. The risk of going outside for her was certainly much greater than it was for you and me during lock-down; the risk of death much more imminent.
Maybe you didn’t stay home for the sake of your own life; maybe you thought you’d be fine even if you were to catch it. But the point of lock-down was to stay home in solidarity. We stayed indoors to literally save lives, whether it was our own or those of others.
So whilst I don’t mean to equate Anne Frank’s experience to what we’ve lived through this year (by no length of the imagination), I do think lockdown has been hard. And on some superficial level, Anne Frank was an expert, so I think there’s a lot we can learn from her experience.
Here are a few of her wise words of wisdom –
1. Your feelings are legitimate
“Feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.” ― Anne Frank
This has been a different year for everyone. Some people have been more affected by the virus than others. Some have lost a friend, or family, or been sick themselves. For others, it’s been emotionally draining in different ways. Some people lost their jobs, some endured months of solitude, some simply felt frustrated by the stagnation in their life.
What’s sure is that no-one was left unscathed. We’ve all been marked by this pandemic. It’s ok to feel however you feel; it’s ok to wallow in your pain for a moment and not feel ashamed by the fact that others have it worse.
2. We’re not so different
“We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”― Anne Frank
There are many ways in which humans have drawn boundaries within the confines of our species. We’ve created superficial and arbitrary categories to highlight our differences; geographical borders, job titles, social classes, all of which create a mistaken illusion that we’re fundamentally different to other people.
There are things that differentiate each of us, of course; some biological, others not. In fact,
part of the beauty of being human is our capacity to develop our own tastes, styles, and opinions. But whilst we’ve each made our unique decisions, grown up in a different environment, and chosen a particular life for ourselves, fundamentally, we’re all human; we’re not so different. We all want to love and be loved, we want to be safe and healthy, happy and at peace.
Now is a time to come together; to embrace our minor differences, and cherish our major similarities. That neighbor you’ve never spoken to, the colleague you vaguely know, and the waiter that hands you your coffee every morning — they’re going through this too.
3. Bring joy to others
“Whoever is happy will make others happy.”― Anne Frank
In spring, the cases of covid-19 rose exponentially within days; the system couldn’t cope. Most health professionals were tested like never before.
One of my friends is a nurse in a hospital in Bilbao. This pandemic has been especially tough on her. She worked painfully long hours, wearing layers of uncomfortable and heavy protective gear. She saw pain and death on a daily basis.
I called her on her birthday, and I was surprised by the stunned silence when she picked up the phone.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Hey”, she replied in a broken voice. She was crying, I could tell.
“What’s wrong? I was calling to say happy birthday! What’s the matter?”
“I’ve just finished my shift; I’m in work still. Laura, I’m hiding in a storage closet, I feel guilty going home, but I had to get away. I can’t do this. Most of my patients are dying — MOST Laura! I have bruises on my face from these goggles, and I’m so tired — I’m so so tired.”
We talked for a little while and I tried to calm her down. After a while, I could tell she was feeling better. She explained that an elderly man that she had grown particularly fond of had passed away this morning. She said “he told me he’d be back to burn-down the hospital kitchen”, and let out a little chuckle.
She said that at least she had great colleagues; apparently, they’re always joking, and on most days, the vibe is quite light-hearted despite the chaos. She said that even terminal patients and their families often make jokes and laugh with each other. It’s a coping mechanism.
When there’s nothing you can do but keep going, laughter and joy can help you overcome the hardest of times. In fact, this is why the first human mission to Mars will include a comedian, as a way to unite teams in stressful situations.
Laughter is infectious, we just have to get the snowball rolling.
4. Use this time to reflect inwards
“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” ― Anne Frank
This is what I mean about being wise beyond her years. At an age when I was making PowerPoint presentations to negotiate a later bed-time, Anne Frank was taking ownership over her self-development. In her diary she says:
“I think a lot, but I don’t say much…a quiet conscience makes one strong!” ― Anne Frank
With limited opportunities to socialize, we’ve been forced to spend more time with ourselves; to speak less and think more.
Thousands of people have taken this opportunity to change career paths completely. Unhappy with their former situation, this ‘pause’ in our lives and the disruptions it has caused to the status quo has provided an opportunity to revise our priorities. It has slowed down the pace of life to allow us to catch our breath and re-consider whether we’re running the right race.
This break from normality isn’t necessarily going to hold you back. It’s an opportunity to slow down and think about what you really want. What’s important to you?
5. Take ownership of your own emotions
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”― Anne Frank
Cooped in an annex with a group of adults, and forced to live in silence, there weren’t many outlets through which Anne could express herself. No singing, no dancing, no running or jumping rope. Her diary was the only place where she could materialize her imagination.
In her diary, she expresses her frustration. Not only did she have a lot of built-up energy, with no outlet through which to release it; the same was true for seven other people — all living under one roof.
There were times where tensions were high; people felt claustrophobic, agitated, angry, and the others didn’t have the strength and the patience to help. Learning to manage their emotions was critical for their coexistence. So, Anne turned to her diary –
“Paper has more patience than people.”― Anne Frank
For many of us, lock-down tested our relationships, especially those with the people we live. We’ve all been worried, emotional, and frustrated at times. And unlike most difficulties we go through, this one was collective. Those around us were feeling the same; maybe they weren’t strong enough themselves to provide the support we needed.
So during lock-down, I started journaling. It’s a way to vent your frustrations and make room for gratitude, which according to positive psychology research, is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. I encourage you to give it a try.
6. Have faith in your power to improve the world
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”― Anne Frank
A global survey by Deloitte has coined millennials and GenZs as ‘the resilient generations’. The report explores the views of more than 27.5K millennials and GenZs both before and after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and highlights their unwavering commitment to environmental sustainability and making a positive impact in their communities.
The report explains that the pandemic has brought about an even stronger sense of individual responsibility. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said the pandemic had made them more sympathetic towards the needs of others and that they intend to take action to have a positive impact on their communities.
Climate change and protecting the environment was and remains a top priority for millennials and the GenZ generation. We’ve seen how quickly businesses are able to adapt, and it has fuelled a greater sense of hope that change is possible.
This pandemic has provided momentum; let’s not waste it.
7. Be optimistic and hopeful
“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”― Anne Frank
This isn’t a time to become complacent; to sit back, relax and wait for others to solve our problems. A lot has gone wrong — everywhere. Yes, it’s a time to reflect, but it’s also a time to act. It’s an opportunity to make changes and improvements.
According to the law of attraction, we should do so through an optimistic lens; one that will motivate us to persevere and encourage us to set the bar high. It dictates that whatever can be imagined is achievable if you take action on a plan that takes you to where you want to be. It’s certainly an optimistic perspective, but why think any different?
With astonishing grace and perplexing positivity, Anne held on to the hope of an optimistic future. During an experience unimaginable to most of us today, she still saw beauty and expressed gratitude for what she had –
“I’ve found that there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you…As long as this exists, this sunshine and this cloudless sky, and as long as I can enjoy it, how can I be sad?”― Anne Frank
I encourage us all to take a page from her diary –
“Don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”― Anne Frank