Features & Commentaries

Home Sweet Home: Bitter - Sweet Paradox

29 Aug 2020 | Dr. Vincent David | North Caribbean Conference

It is non-discriminatory as it moves or is carried from coast to coast around the world touching lives and hurting life and lives.  It has forced the closing of education centers, religious systems, as well as social and sporting activities.  Every facet of life is being negatively impacted by this virus known as COVID 19 pandemic. Moving restrictions and rules were implemented across the globe to curtail the viral transmission.   “We are asking our residents to stay-at-home unless absolutely necessary,” said Governor Bryan. “We do not take these decisions lightly. We are motivated by the critical need to keep our community safe.” These were the echoing words of other leaders.

This reminds me of the old adage that is still true and more so of great necessity, “Children, stay off the road and stay home.”  Parents use this to protect and prevent youths and children from
being idle and becoming involved in non-conventional behaviors and deviant activities.  Unless one had a purposeful reason to be out on the streets, home was the place to be.  My brother and I in our younger years were gainfully engaged in the selling of the newspaper – “Daily News Paper”.

So, being on the road was essential for us as we travelled from home to the point where we collected our parcel of papers to sell. This was in an effort to create the added finance (a necessity) in helping to provide for home.  Mama did not allow us the apparent misguided luxury to be freelancers on the streets.  “Stay at home” was  a directive for our own good and safety. It was “safer at home”.

Being at home was never a pain or challenge for me.  It has been the best place in this world that I cherish most.  Whenever travelling overseas looking forward to being at home was special.  Many tourists will tell you that going around the world though exciting in most cases, they look forward to reaching home.  It is relaxing and calm as a breath of fresh air flows thru my soul after a long day’s work.  At home I could connect “heart to heart” with my family, my wife, our children.  “Home is where the heart is ” rings more truth today than it did decades ago.  These well-known expressions show that home is somewhere that is both desirable and that exists in the mind’s eye as much as in a particular physical location and it is more than a paradox. It is invigorating.  However, there are those whose memory of home is of an oppressive or abusive environment from which escape is (or was) a must.  The culture at such home is painful and demeaning.  Hence, home sweet home is a bitter-sweet paradox.

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted a most comprehensive study of how values in the workplace are influenced by culture. He defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others”.  Two of the six dimensions postulated by Hofstede speak significantly to our current and urgent situation or current culture of COVID-19.  I refer to the current culture as we are confronted with a new norm, short term or long term.

The first is the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) dimension.  This dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society (home) feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, the reality of our current situation.   We wrestle with the order of social distancing which grinds against our natural behavior of community connect and socializing.  We are uncomfortable with the order to stay at home or as in recent “Safer Home”.  The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen?  Connecting physically with an embrace, hug or even a handshake is prohibited.  For fear of not knowing if we would contract the virus, we avoid each other.  There is so much uncertainty and ambiguity that the order to “stay at home does seem to make “home safer.  Hence, there is the tension between the group of persons who exhibit strong UAI and are compliant with the command to “stay at home” or “safer home”, and those who maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice is more important than principle, pleasure over possible pain as postulated by Hofstede.
Secondly, the indulgence versus restraint (IVR) dimension also speaks so eloquently to our present challenge.  According to Hofstede, indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Whereas, restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it utilizing strict social norms.  Every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and the future. Societies prioritize these two existential goals differently.  The tension is real.  Leaders challenged to reopen and try to return to business as normal or to walk circumspectly and prolonged the stay at home or safer home order.

So with COVID 19 the stay at home order allows families to spend time together in fellowship and even quietude as they build stronger positive relationships.  However, there are families who though they live in the same dwelling place they do not have the healthy connections to tolerate confinement over a long period together.

Men who are accustomed to spending time on the corner or at the bar and even on the ball field are now faced with being at home restricted and frustrated not knowing how to relate and what to do.  Men feel powerless and restrained. Hence, frustrated and challenged minds have made home a toxic environment for some. Women are stressed and afraid as if walking on thin ice trying hard to prevent arguments.

Children are restless, afraid and at times nerve-wracking for some parents who now have to do more and cater to their daily needs and wants from the school assignments to the refrigerator supply.  The gratification of needs has been limited and in some cases prohibited and is regulated by strict current social norms. This promotes a bitter-sweet paradox of home that is to be a place of comfort and rest.

The COVID 19 Coronavirus has severely paralyzed and crushed the daily hustle and bustle of life.  There is now a new norm.  We are living more simple lives.  Many have become more God focus and appreciative for life.  We are brought back to basic things like how to yawn, cough and for sure sneeze.  We have become more conscious in protecting self and others – humanly, humane.  Think about it and consider the following as you seek to cope and manage self and relationships during this period of pandemic.  
Firstly, God in His wisdom may use this situation to awaken in people their need of Him. A turn to God will engender a turn to healthy family relations where home may become a place of peace and safety.  The admonishment is, to “be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another”.    Be respectful of your family and deposit in them words and attitudes of kindness and benevolence.  The wise man Solomon spoke about the power of words and he posits that our connection with God will influence how we speak to others thus affecting our credibility and impact.  Seek to calm down rather than stir up emotions.  A fire can quickly blaze when oil or trash is thrown in it.  COVID 19 is distructive already, don’t be a trash thrower in the flicker of the fired action of another.  Be gentle in your reaction and reflect an attitude that will engender an atmosphere of love, affection and affirmation.

Secondly, stay at home can breathe agitation and uneasiness that can lead to stress.  The inability to cope can also add stress to your system.  The body and brain become agitated, tired and lethargic.  In times of distress, the body needs adequate rest thus avoiding frustration and a fretful demeanor.  Lack of sleep also promotes negative behavioral patterns affecting home climate.  One study found that people who had not slept well had a reduced ability to recognize expressions of anger and happiness.  Hence, the culture of the home changes thus having a negative impact on the members of the family.  We were “not made to dwell in solitude”, we are “social beings”.  Social interactions positively increase when appropriate sleep happens.  

The invitation of a compassionate God is still available to all. It is to “come to me and find rest from the burdens” of life; rest from the stresses of the pandemic, rest in this time of uncertainty, rest in the hands of the one who holds the future.  As we traverse through this period of pandemic, our stay at home can be pleasant, making home sweet home and indeed, safer home.


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A paper written by Dr. Vincent David for the NCC Newsletter