Moral compasses and citizenship after Covid - RSA

Moral compasses and citizenship after Covid


  • Picture of Anton Florek FRSA
    Anton Florek FRSA
    Lead Associate at The Staff College: committed to inclusive schooling/public sector leadership
  • Leadership
  • Philosophy

“Humankind is now facing a global crisis. Perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come.”

The above quote comes from an article called The world after coronavirus, by Yuval Noah Harari. It was written in February 2020, before the peak of the pandemic. Even then, Harari presciently foresaw that:

“Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes.”

Over the past three months or so, we at the Staff College have been observing how the pandemic has impacted on people’s lives and thinking about those changes to individual and/or collective behaviours that have emerged as a result of this and are likely to become embedded in the future as suggested by Harari.

We have concluded that they tend to fit into what might usefully be framed as citizen responses across the following three impact areas:

  • Personal citizenship (relational/moral)
  • Societal citizenship (Economic/workplace/social)
  • Global citizenship (environmental/ecological/natural)

Examples of the new types of citizenship

Obviously, there is some overlap between the areas. But for each, we can think about a clear ‘before’ and ‘after’ Covid framework for moral decision-making and action.

I have already noticed some of the post-Covid moral re-positioning. Here are three examples:

  • IKEA is planning to return money to all nine countries that gave it government support through furlough-type schemes as it has suffered less than expected from the Covid-19 crisis. The CEO’s view is that it’s simply “the right thing to do” – a clear example of societal citizenship.
  • Bill Gates, acting as a global citizen, is using his influence to create a movement for the equitable and global distribution of vaccines when they come available.
  • Anthony Fauci, Director of the American National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, touched on all three citizenships when asked, What advice do you have for people who are trying to resume their lives in this “new normal?

    He replied: “You have a responsibility for your own health. But also, since we live in a big country and in a global community, what we do as individuals will have an impact on the success or not of getting this outbreak under control.”

The ‘new normal’

As Covid-19 plays out across the globe, at the Staff College we are observing that any country trying to emerge from the lockdown or containment phase are finding it difficult. Local infections are flaring up, schools are grappling with the challenges of lockdown, and the leisure industry is coming to terms with how to offer hospitality whilst keeping people safe!

In practice, I think it is likely we will view before and after Covid as distinct time periods, like BC and AD. I do not believe we are simply going back into the same box we came out of after a surreal period of ‘time out.’

As individual citizens, families, communities, businesses, local and national agencies have responded to the unprecedented restrictions on social mobility, we have all learnt to go about our daily lives and work in new and often novel ways.  

Given this, I think there is a moral imperative that we take time out to reflect, check our moral compasses and rethink:

  • what is important
  • what are we leaving behind
  • what are we retaining and why, i.e. to what purpose?

This will require us to use all three types of citizenship if we want to create a better world for everyone.

Anton Florek is an RSA Fellow and Strategic Adviser to The Staff College. 

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