The chance to care for each other helps in many ways

Tomorrow is a ‘Super Saturday’ to get vaccinated. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Tomorrow is a ‘Super Saturday’ to get vaccinated. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Lynne Taylor outlines the keys to surviving and thriving.

There are many things that human beings need to survive and to thrive. In addition to the obvious physical necessities, self-determination theorists point to three things that are less obvious: autonomy, belonging and competency.

All, they say, are necessary for mental health, growth and wellbeing.

Autonomy is about being in control of one’s goals and behaviours: a sense that if we act in particular ways, certain outcomes will result. Conversely, autonomy can be challenged when things seem to be beyond our control.

Belonging relates to a sense of attachment to and connectedness with others. Obviously, the sense of connection can be challenged when we’re isolated from whanau or friends.

Competency is about having a role to play and knowing that you do it well. It’s about developing and using your skills or gifts. Frustration might occur when there are competing demands that cause a sense we’re not doing anything well, or when opportunities for skill development are lost.

As we’ve discovered over the past 20 months, pandemics mess with each of these three psychological needs. Usual freedoms are restricted by new regulations, which may negatively impact one’s sense of autonomy. Lockdowns make it impossible to be physically present with those outside one’s own household, which can contribute to a sense of isolation and diminished connection and belonging. Living with increased anxiety while juggling responsibilities or lacking the employment that usually brings a sense of fulfilment, can cause us to question our competency.

It’s no wonder many people are feeling stressed.

I’ve spent the past few months investigating how churches are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. A close look at the actions of one church revealed something very simple that contributed positively to each of these core psychological needs.

This church invited everyone to care for others. Specifically, they invited their congregation to reach out and connect with three people from within or beyond the church. Not just once; each person was encouraged to check in with those three friends regularly and consistently.

I said it was simple.

It was introduced early in the first lockdown and returned to time and again. It had a descriptive name (complete with hashtag), meaning the campaign was memorable and visible. Because it was something the church were all invited into, there was a sense of collective engagement.

Autonomy was enhanced because the caregiver made the effort to be involved: as they decided for themselves to act in a way that was caring towards others. Doing so helped provide a sense of having control over their actions. Belonging was enhanced in two key ways. First, because it was something members of the church did individually, yet collectively. They were together making an important contribution to the church and wider community. Secondly, belonging was enhanced as relationships deepened. Competency was enhanced as the person doing the caring experienced a sense of purpose: they were doing something important and valued.

We often see such actions in terms of the benefits for the recipients of the care. But actually, there’s reciprocity here — the benefits go both ways.

Of course, this wasn’t the only way that this church cared for others in the church and community. Skilled pastoral care workers were available to check in with those who needed additional support, and a variety of practical, mental and spiritual care was provided. What does this mean in Otepoti/Dunedin today?

First, we can of course be reaching out to check in with others, including those in parts of the country that are living with greater restrictions than we are. Reaching out and supporting others should, I suggest, include desisting from complaining about the (lesser) restrictions that we face — particularly as Tamaki Makaurau/Auckland continues to bear the brunt of the virus. As with the church I studied, such reaching out to others contributes to all three wellbeing dimensions.

Secondly, it is important to remember that it is the virus that is the problem, not the people who have become infected, nor the public health restrictions and requirements that have come into play in response to it. As with the complaining, scapegoating those who have contracted Covid-19 or those implementing the necessary restrictions is, ultimately, destructive. It undermines any autonomy, belonging and competency that we seek to reclaim.

Thirdly, one practical way that we can reclaim some control against the virus is by being vaccinated. Through choosing to be vaccinated we reclaim and exercise our autonomy and competency while also affirming our belonging with our other five million team members.

Tomorrow is Super Saturday. If you haven’t already been vaccinated, it’s a Super Saturday to make the (autonomous) choice to do so. If you have questions or concerns, there is plenty of information on the Covid-19 website. There are videos, information sheets and responses to common questions.

I’m delighted to be fully vaccinated. For me, it is an expression of my Christian values of loving God and loving neighbour — including the most vulnerable in society. Finally, If you’re already vaccinated, thanks. Are there some others you can make the effort to check in with? Perhaps see if they need a lift to the clinic, or someone to hang out with them afterwards. They might have some questions about vaccination you could point them towards resources on.

We’ve done so well, Aotearoa. Let’s keep working to keep ourselves and each other safe.

 - Lynne Taylor is the Jack Somerville Lecturer in Pastoral Theology at the University of Otago.

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