Last week, the UK’s prime minister announced a shift in direction. To combat the spread of Covid-19, instead of Stay at Home, we are to Stay Alert. We should go to work if we can’t work from home, we may exercise freely but we must maintain social distancing. Many people are confused. What does ‘Stay alert’ actually mean? Why can people go to work but not see their families?

For the Cotton Tree, the new guidelines make little difference. OK, we can make an extra trip to the park, but when will we be able to meet again in person? When will we be able to use our offices? When will our lawyers be able to sit with our members and share their emotional journeys? It’s all very well telling people to go to work if they can’t work at home, but when will the Home Office get back to work?

We don’t know the answers, but after seven weeks in lockdown, it seems a good time to shift direction too. What lies ahead, and how can we prepare for life after COVID-19?

The story of the Blind Men and the Elephant

Confusion about the meaning of ‘Stay Alert’ inspired our latest storytelling workshop. Although many of our members speak fluent English, when we explored the meanings behind certain words, we discovered that everyone (volunteers and staff included) had a lot to learn. The English language isn’t just about dictionary meanings. It’s about culture, attitudes, humour…

The Blind Men and the Elephant is a parable from India which has been adapted by many religions and cultures. It’s about a group of blind men who try to understand what an elephant is, each touching a different part and disagreeing on their findings. You can read a poem about the story here.

We human beings are rather like blind people who see things differently and assume that reality is as we see it…

To bring different perspectives together, we also watched Monty Python’s sketch ‘The Argument’. Some of our members found this hilarious. Others weren’t so sure. We spent the rest of the meeting exploring words:

  • Argument
  • Abuse
  • Contradiction
  • Quarrel
  • Row
  • Brawl
  • Dispute
  • Debate
  • Reasoning

We thought long and hard about what ‘argument’ means, and there was plenty of debate and contradiction (but no abuse). We agreed that many of these words overlap in meaning and one member recalled that Icelanders have more than 40 words for ‘snow’. Another told us that in Arabic there are 10 words that mean ‘love’. So we decided to do some homework. By next week, we shall try to find as many words for ‘love’ as we can in English and our native languages, or any other languages we speak.

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