(def: inclined to conceal feelings and intentions or not to disclose information)

WHAT are your dirty secrets? I’ve a few myself, a little list of times I’ve stretched the lockdown rules in ways I haven’t been broadcasting on Facebook. I have, for instance, gone for a couple of well-distanced walks with a friend who lives on her own, and “accidentally” met someone in a park, except it clearly hasn’t been accidental because I had something to give them and ended up walking round for about 20 minutes, shouting across the two-metre gap.

Each time I've done something like this it felt like I was on some clandestine tryst. But, of course, I wasn’t – it’s just these ordinary acts are now banned, and not just against the rules, but subject to social disapproval. My infringements aren’t heinous. I’ve not, like Professor Neil Ferguson, had my lover over to my house, or, as Catherine Calderwood did, visited my countryside second home. I haven’t had a house party. I haven’t driven miles to visit family. But I’ve done things we're not supposed to do. I even once went for a dip in the sea off my local beach – on my own.

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One of the problems with the current climate, the necessary rules, is that it has turned us into a nation of fibbers and hypocrites. The shaming and finger-pointing that’s been a necessary element in enforcing the lockdown has forced us into secrecy. We’re involved in a kind of dissemblance in which most of us are rule-bending but squaring it to ourselves as safe, yet at the same time hiding our actions from the world because we are worried that others will not deem them safe.

Perhaps this is just a necessary part of the lockdown, a way in which we hide our small slippages in order to prevent a wider collective slippage, fearful that if we tell everyone we briefly met a friend outdoors, we would begin the collapse all together of lockdown and a tumble towards some terrifying rise of the dreaded R number.

Meanwhile, frequently, in discussion with friends, I’ve found there has been uncertainty about what the rules are. It has seemed in the UK as if, in the absence of sufficient speed or clarity from the Westminster Government, and the confusion that springs up over having different sets of rules – one for England and one each for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – a space has opened up for us all to decide the rules for ourselves.

We have a sense, as we go out into the world, that it is our communities that are really already the arbiters. Lockdown is like almost everything else in these times of social media shaming and disapproval – decided by the crowd, the weather of feeling out there – whether it be to mask or not to mask, to sit on the grass in the park or not, to have a nanny in your home or not. It may be that it's okay, according to the rules, to have a cleaner in your home in England right now, but anyone doing it will likely get a social media lynching. Such is the wisdom of the crowd.

This is all part of the way we, as a society, are working it out. But I worry about the secrecy and the shaming. I wouldn’t want it to last. Shame only ever sends us underground. It turns us into a society of mask-wearers, hiding ourselves, breaking the rules in secret because we don't really think they are right, or should apply to us.


(def: the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate)

Kindness used to be for wimps – one of those old-fashioned behaviours that didn’t fit with our fast-moving, toxic times. But all these weeks into the pandemic and it really does feel like it’s become cool to be kind. The kindness wave is still gaining energy. We’re still talking about how we’re reaching out to our neighbours, shopping for them, checking in on them – and cherishing that. And rightly so. Kindness has long been ridiculously underrated.

Mental Health Awareness Week, starting tomorrow, has hit the moment well in taking kindness as its theme. After all, it has so much to give. As Mark Rowland, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, has said: “The research ... shows that acts of kindness can help improve emotional wellbeing. This is true whether we are giving or receiving it.”

So let’s keep the kindness going. When lockdown eases and we begin to come together in most likely hard times, let's direct it into some action that transforms our communities. Let’s not, as we start create the new norm, let it flag.