Let’s develop empathy

We have been through many months of pain caused by a global pandemic that no one could have imagined. Here at Home Renaissance Foundation we have tried to share stories filled with hope, especially at a time of rapid and widespread vaccination. But just as we return to work after a period of rest, the international scenario is once again intensifying.

One cannot remain unmoved by the crisis facing the people of Afghanistan. It is impossible. Seeing people fleeing, no matter how far away they are, no matter how different their culture is, no matter how little we have in common with them, cannot prevent us from understanding their suffering. They are people.

In developed countries, we enjoy freedom, democracy, education, welfare, without valuing the effort it took to get here. We argue over meaningless issues, we fight over small details and we live our lives with our backs turned from the rest of the world. But it cannot go on like that.

My heart sinks at the thought of all those people fleeing their own country, having to leave behind family, home, parents, grandparents, maybe even children… But what kind of a world are we living in? How can this be possible in the 21st century? What are we doing wrong? We need to be self-critical and try to help those who need it most, perhaps without going too far away. Let’s develop a little empathy in our own neighbourhood.

In this blog, we try to give guidelines about the building of a home, about the fundamental pillars for a well functioning household, about how to face the difficulties (difficulties!) to keep a family strong and well managed. Yes, here, in countries where we appear to have everything but perhaps lack the most important thing.

Have you ever stopped to think what it would be like to be forced to leave your country, fleeing from barbarism, and start over again elsewhere? A place where you are the stranger, you do not know the language or have the means to start strong, where you feel lost because the customs are different and you are forced to build a new home in an unknown environment, without loving support around you or anyone who understands you, trying to minimize as much as possible the pain that your children may be feeling because no one, especially not at their age, deserves this.

This situation worries us and makes us aware that as a think tank we must delve deeper into the reality of what is happening not just today in Afghanistan, but witnessed a few years ago in Syria, and is a part of daily living in Venezuela and other places in the world. Being a refugee, exile or migrant, is never an ideal situation for anyone. We are already working on a future Experts Meeting that we will tell you about soon.

Is laundry an issue in your home?

Throughout the pandemic, most of the news focused on the effects of confinement on families due to a more intense coexistence.

Covid19 locked us in our homes and in some houses, troubles began to arise. Day-to-day teleworking from home, fitting in the shopping and managing all the household tasks, forced many families into trying to divide out the tasks, with those who were successful achieving a harmonious home as a result while others failed to come to an agreement.

As Professor Argandoña says in our latest book published by Routledge entitled ‘People, Care and Work in the Home’: “Homes are like companies, in both their members pursue a common goal.” The difference is that a company seeks profitability and a family, the well-being and happiness of its members. In a company, your services are rewarded with a salary at the end of the month whereas with the family, in principle, work should be repaid with gratitude, respect and love.

There are some tasks facing couples that are more challenging than others. For example, doing the laundry can often be a source of conflict. Who is in charge of washing the clothes, taking them out of the machine, drying and ironing them and putting them back in their place? Mr. Jeff, owner of a home laundry business, explains in one of his studies that laundry takes up to 500 hours per year. Therefore, they propose to outsource this service so that the family has more time to relax.

It is a service that will surely help many families, especially those who can afford it. But at Home Renaissance Foundation we have always maintained that housework is not a list of tasks that one must complete throughout the day like a robot. The work of the home helps to build the environment necessary for the development of every person and dignify both those who perform them and the people who benefit from them. And of course, we recognise that they require a great amount of effort that can produce satisfaction over time.

In the home, people are not measured by how profitable or efficient they are. If this were the case, we would not be able to count on little ones and probably not on grandparents either, who at a certain age can no longer carry out the more difficult tasks… At home you are taken care of, you are respected and you are loved. All that is required is commitment and dedication. In return, you receive love and a sense of well-being.

Post-Pandemic Homes

This year our heads and hearts -and of course our news – have been full of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives. As I write the world is juggling the very different demands of closing the opportunity for new infections and opening the economy for vital new financial activity. It is no wonder that many are facing the winter both confused and concerned.

At HRF we have been at the forefront of communicating the impact of COVID-19 on the home. This goes beyond the immediate effects of lockdown, home-schooling and caring for the vulnerable and looks at the longer-term aftermath of all that we have experienced this year.

Citizens Advice has estimated that in the UK alone 6 million households are falling into debt through rent arrears, with carers, shielders and key workers hardest hit.  Although there has been a welcome extension to the ban on evictions to the end of this month, the CA figures show the tip of an iceberg in terms of what struggling families face in the months and years ahead.

Loss of jobs and income security has had a disproportionate effect on those in the lower-income bracket. Along with those identified by Citizens Advice, jobs in hospitality and the so-called “gig” economy have been very vulnerable to the shrinking of spending during lockdown.

While working from home has been seen as beneficial for those otherwise commuting into the cities, it has been detrimental for those dependent on such commuters – office cleaners, receptionists, cab drivers, restaurant and catering staff. These are typically some of the lowest-paid roles and their loss is all the more serious as a consequence. The place this is felt first is in the home.

The important question today is how to help the homes of tomorrow. The home has changed this year and some of those changes are to be seen as positive, notably the renewed recognition of the value of home as a place of nurture and support. For many though, the changes directly related to diminished income and future expectations are more problematic.

HRF is currently in partnership with the COVID-19 Family Life Study which amongst other areas is looking at the concerns of families with young children at this time. If the economic forecasts are correct then this rising generation will face the greatest long-term consequences of the pandemic.

The timescale of when young people could expect to leave home to set up their own households had already extended as the cost of housing rocketed over the last few decades. It seems likely that this will continue. Looking now at how to support multi-generational households is a creative and positive response to what in other contexts might be framed as a problem rather than a societal opportunity. See here some work HRF pioneered on intergenerational living and thriving.

It is too soon to learn all the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic but it is not too soon to address the very real and growing needs of the post- pandemic home.

How does the Internet affect our lives?

There are few professions, jobs or activities that are now possible to carry out without using the internet. The current coronavirus crisis and the instructions to self-isolate have even more powerfully underlined this, and we are also having direct personal experience of the benefits that being connected to each other via the internet bring.

Although in some homes and in some parts of the world internet access cannot be guaranteed, most of us, with this simple connection have the world at our fingertips. With a single click, we can – or could -buy a flight, enjoy a virtual visit to a museum, read our favourite novel, watch a recently released movie, order food at home or talk to our best friend who lives on the other side of the world. This is greatly valued at this time and a credit to those who have developed AI systems that help the elderly and more vulnerable to feel better connected and therefore less alone.

It is evident that the network has changed the way the world works, from the global financial system, to our own daily lives as ordinary users. This is what Maria Bakardjieva, Dean of the Faculty of Communication at the University of Calgary, Canada, addresses in her latest publication.

In Internet Society, Professor Bakardjieva investigates Internet use and its implications for society through the insights of just such ordinary users. Drawing on an original study of non-professional, ′ordinary′ users at home, the book examines how people interpret, domesticate, and creatively appropriate the Internet by integrating it into the projects and activities of their everyday lives.

How many businesses have flourished thanks to the Internet? How much information and how many good things we share through social networks? Appropriate and responsible use of this amazing tool opens many doors and a huge world of possibilities. Many individuals have been enriched and communities created through the shared interests of family and home concerns – from cooking to child-care. Online hubs offering opportunities for conversations way beyond our immediate circle have been used across society, including by religious communities that use technologies to improve and expand their message.

And this is precisely the idea that Prof. Bakardjieva tries to show in her projects: it is not only the Internet that has influenced people’s lives but the people who have used it in their lives. “Early scholarly writing on the Internet saw cyberspace as an emergent realm separated from real life. Later studies gradually brought in the realization that the online and the offline worlds were tightly intertwined and events unfolding in one of them affected developments in the other. Most recently, some researchers have proposed the idea that there are not two distinct domains of experience, but rather that the virtual and the real have blended into the same fundamental reality to which we wake up every day.”

Without a doubt, the 21st century is the century of communication, of information, and a positive outlook is possible. This century is also though the century of disinformation, fake news and online scams. Despite this very real danger, at  HRF we are very optimistic about the digital age because a responsible use of this technology greatly benefits all family members. The keyword here is “responsible” and this is where work on the ethics of the digital world in our homes -the place where the online and the offline meet – is so clearly needed.

Our own commitment and work in this area continue to grow and we invite those who also engage with these concerns to register for our next academic Conference to be held in London this November, where we are delighted that Professor Bakardjieva will be joining us as a participant.