Navigating the complex world of Covid-19 – Terry Waite in conversation with Sir Anthony Seldon
The importance of ‘living in the moment’ and ‘be kind to ourselves and each other’ as we navigate through this complicated and sometimes isolated world of Covid-19, were among nuggets of advice from our President Terry Waite CBE speaking during Mental Health Awareness week 2020.
Terry was invited to join the exclusive Coutts in Conversation series, along with historian and author Sir Anthony Seldon, set up by Coutts bank online to keep its customers connected while offering perspective and practical tips to keep mentally healthy.
Reflecting on his time when taken hostage in Beirut in 1987 where he was held for nearly five years in solitary confinement, Terry talked about the challenges when facing chronic uncertainty to offer words of support for people today.
“Part of the secret of dealing with these situations is to develop a rich and full inner life, and that can be done in situations when you have nothing around you, no material goods, nothing. It can be done.”
Terry said: “You can look at the present situation as being a real opportunity.
“Now, I do recognise that it is extremely difficult for many people for many reasons – if you’re living in cramped circumstances alongside other people that is difficult and in that situation it is important that you just try and make a little space for yourself, you need time for yourself, to be alone.
“My belief is that if you are able to be alone and live with yourself you are far more able to live with others and be a better member of community. It’s a question of balance.”
Terry talked about how this time has helped heighten his appreciation of the natural world and creativity:
“It is a wonderful opportunity to catch up, to listen to music, to read, to learn something new and to take each day and say ‘here is another opportunity for exploration and for developing that rich inner life which will stand us in enormously good stead for when things return to what might be considered to be normal.
“Yet, in some ways I don’t want to return to so-called normality, I want it to be new, fresh, adventurous, more compassionate, more understanding and I want it to be different, but if it is going to be different then the difference has to start with me. I’ve got the opportunity to do it now.”
Sir Anthony echoed these sentiments saying: “It is a very difficult time, but there is a choice and there is always ground for optimism.
“The steps that we can take to improve the quality of our own lives and – by the way to make ourselves happier is not a selfish thing – the happier that we make ourselves, the more energy and trust and joy and affirmation we bring to people around us.”
Sir Anthony urged: “To those who are battling to educate their children, don’t try to be the best, accept yourself to be good enough.”
He added: “We need to accept ourselves and others, be optimistic and life is going to be better… We will get through this, and for all the terror and sadness and loss in many homes, it has helped to reboot us. I think that too many of us – myself included – had lost touch with what really mattered in life.”
Reflecting on this time of lockdown, Terry offered advice to people saying: “It will take time to readjust.
“I know from what people are telling me, there is real anxiety in some people as to whether or not they will be able to pick up again once this is over, having had several weeks of comparative isolation, so with that understanding take it gently, one step at a time.”
Talking about Hostage International, Terry explained that because most of our work is done confidentially and we can’t publicise it, it makes it difficult to fundraise because we’re not widely known.
“These are tough times, and like all charities, we are facing major difficulties, but the need is still there.”
The online event, chaired by Francesca Barnes, Coutts & Co non-executive director, saw more than 1000 Coutts members tune in to hear Terry and Sir Anthony speak at a time when the Office of National Statistics recently reported than more than half of people in Great Britain reported experiencing ‘high’ anxiety.
Following the event, Lara Symons, Chief Executive of Hostage International said: “We are very grateful to Coutts for approaching us to help support people through these challenging times by sharing these wise words from Terry, while at the same time helping us highlight our work.”