Cicadas, cement and Covid: a new mix for a stronger foundation

8th December 2020

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CHL School Manager Suzy Andrew reflects on the year that was.

Unprecedented, Lockdown, Iso, Zoom, Pivot, Nimble, Social Distancing…

These are just some of the buzzwords we’ve all been subjected to far too many times in 2020. Words, which on their own, had certainly been used before but 2020 forced new meaning, new phraseology and new slang; “I hope this email finds you well in these strange and unprecedented times…”, “We can’t hear you, you’re on mute!” and my personal favourite, “Zoom ya later!”. Our capacity for virtual engagement was, in turn, challenged, accepted and (in my case) then exhausted. If we were to collaborate and meet, we had to do it in a socially distant manner.

I want to take some time here, though, to unpack the idea of social distancing. The very idea of being socially distant was one that I rallied against immediately. I maintain that the last thing we want during a period of stress and uncertainty is being distant from our colleagues, our peers, our support groups. Yes, we can maintain physical distance, but social? No thanks.

With the understanding that we are not yet in a post-COVID world, this year-that-never-ends is just the beginning of a period of significant change in how we work, how we play and how we relate to each other. During a recent CAP Forum, VC Professor Brian Schmidt shared that he’s looking at the strategic plan for ANU, which will run from 2021–2025. The bad news is we are looking at years of recovery, years of change and years of business as unusual. The good news is, there’s a real feeling of partnership, of input-seeking and of barrier-breaking. We have proven this year that we can respond quickly, we can work anywhere, and we can still succeed despite everything that 2020 has thrown our way. This is a time we can drive change as an institution, as a College and most importantly as the School of Culture, History & Language.

We all know what makes a School; the pillars of teaching, research and service are well established. But, how do we support these pillars? Just how do we hold ourselves together? During the most recent CAP forum, the idea of “social cement” was coined. Social cement is the people, the kindness and respect we show each other, and the impact these qualities have on everyone around us.

Suzy4

CHL School Manager Suzy Andrew

Curing the cement of CHL is my job as the School Manager. As professional staff members, we are here to support. We are the cement. So after a year like no other, how can we make sure that we are strong enough to fulfil this role? With this in mind, I recently led a discussion with the CHL Admin team on resilience, gratitude and happiness, inspired by the blog 1000 Awesome Things. The author, Neil Pasricha, created this blog in 2008 as mental health support during a time of social isolation. And what better tool to use in 2020?

Gratitude affects happiness, but like any skill, positive mindset building needs practice. We are hard-wired to pay attention to perceived threat. Evolution has not caught up with the fact that news media and social media are probably not going to kill us, but they sure can make us really unhappy. For my purposes, we defined happiness as the joy you feel when you are striving towards your potential, how you feel when you are doing things that are worthwhile and meaningful. Happiness does not follow hard work and success. Happiness needs to be first, as this mindset leads to great work which, in turn, leads to success. Finding happiness can be a challenge. Honestly, if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s how to sit in discomfort. Everything kinda sucks, so finding joy in the small things is a great way to train the brain to see the positive.

For me, the resurgence of the cicada, which leaves me nostalgic for my childhood; my six-year-old son choosing my earrings every morning; and watching Tattoo Masters on Netflix with my husband are three little examples of things that keep me grounded.

So, to push the metaphor, cement is never used by itself. Cement is an agent used to adhere other materials together by taking component parts and creating new and stronger properties, through a chemical reaction that is still not fully understood. If your binding agent isn’t strong enough, the whole structure crumbles. Individually, we can bring our strongest selves to this equation. With this in mind, I encourage you to set an intention to practise self-awareness, self-love and acknowledgement of the small stuff. Aristotle has been attributed with the notion that the whole is something besides the parts. If we bring the strongest parts, we can create magic, the social cement that keeps us together, especially in the face of adversity.

It’s rather like the cicada, a symbol of rebirth in China, dating as far back as 1500BC, and their power is in their numbers. We, too, are cementing a new social mix on the back of a challenge like we’ve never faced before. Which is great, because we’re only becoming stronger for adversities of the future.

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster