We went for our Sunday walk after five months. Nature has been calling, coaxing us to get over our fear. We had driven there a few weekends ago but could not convince ourselves to get out and enjoy the trees and all they offered.
Something changed in the last three weeks. I’m not sure what. We summoned up the courage to brave the outdoors. With or without cookie was another debate. The thought of leaving her behind was not sitting well with me and I prevailed upon the family that we could manage with her. I’m glad we took her because she is the only one who enjoyed Sanjay Van with gay abandon. Chasing squirrels and saying hello to an old stray friend who came sniffing, ignoring any semblance of social distance. To her, I would imagine it was a happy reunion, with a familiar place. A joy to be out and about, the way we used to be, a short few months ago.
To me however it was a painful reminder that there is no going back. I have never seen so many people in this beautiful city forest before. Many unfortunately mask-less. Some in groups. Some alone but more than 50 percent of the folks we saw were with chin guards or wrist bands.
For a few stolen moments when the track opened up and I was surrounded by only greenery and the call of birds, I felt the invisible cloak of the forest envelop me. Then the fear returned. As another mask-less walker turned the corner. Guards up. Greenery faded into the background and I saw red instead. Red for danger kept flashing through the branches and boughs of green. Worry mostly and sometimes anger came rushing to the surface. Anger at not being able to enjoy the simple pleasure of going for peaceful and safe Sunday walk with my family.
My son reminded me that a lot of this ‘story’ that I am telling myself is all in my head. He enjoyed the walk. “No point getting irritated with others. They will do what they want” is his matter of fact approach to the mask-less. I somehow could not find my way there. I kept asking myself how could they? How dare they? Don’t they care?
A family of about 10 walked by nonchalantly – from grandkid’s to the grandma, not one had a mask on. We got off the path to get away from them, the way a cyclist makes way for a big dangerous truck that is heading straight for it on a narrow road. They looked at us with amazement or maybe amusement as we huddled together, our backs to them, hoping that the virus was not lurking in their breath. What can they see, that I cannot?
It was a learning experience. A reminder that I need to find my way back. A way to enjoy the few stolen moments and embrace the now. Not hanker for the way things were. I was on edge. I was uncomfortable with the mask on. I was uncomfortable with others who had their mask off. Overall a morning of dis-ease. The opposite of what I went in search of. The easy comforting embrace of the city forest that used to calm my soul every week. I need to find my way back there again. The trees have not changed. The birds sound happier. The squirrels were plentiful. Cookie was back in her element. I was in a different place. I need to find my way back to that position of ease. But for now I am standing in attention trying to see my way through. Possibly it is a good time to pay attention. The customary picnic stop for coffee and biscuits had to wait till we were back in the car. There are no safe surfaces to put our coffee cups down on in the forest. No corner where we can take our masks off, let our guard down, and enjoy a coffee break.
As I sit at home, with my mask off in the comfort of my bedroom and ease into another marvellous Marvel move, Odin reminds Thor of a simple but powerful truth when their beautiful planet is under attack. “Asgard is not a place. It’s a people.” Nothing can destroy Asgard as long as its people find their new place. A city forest is not a place. It’s what the people make it. It’s a state of mind. It’s a place that people can make a safe haven. A place where we can all be at ease. I am hopeful that we will find our way there, together. I am hopeful we will find our way back to a place of ease, if we pay attention. Till then, I will soldier on, paying attention.
How does my wandering in Sanjay Van connect to the world of Reputation Management? The way I see it “Perception is Reality” and that is the power that PR wields. It has the ability to shift perceptions. As I walked through the wooded paths, my perception was the lens through which I experienced Sanjay Van and it defined my reality. Public Relations as a profession has the ability to help tell a story and shift the way people perceive a brand or an organisation. To impact behaviour is at its essence. PR also has the responsibility to ensure the story is rooted in reality, if not the danger of doubt is ever and present. Doubt in the veracity of the story, doubt in the intent with which it is told. The truth behind the information needs to be well researched, the purpose for which it is being shared needs to be well defined. In the weeks and months that follow, whether we all mask up or take the risk and go mask-less, will be defined by the stories we hear and tell ourselves.
The power of our profession to influence behaviour and the responsibility to be the ‘custodian of image’ go hand in hand. PR needs to protect and nurture and at the same time drum up excitement and attention when required. I cannot convince myself that there is no danger lurking in Sanjay Van. I should not. At the same time I need to find a way to enjoy that beautiful place again. That is my reality and my perception is slowly shifting towards embracing the adventure. The public at large that wanders through Sanjay Van in search of its green embrace will define my relations with the place as we go forward. Hopefully we will find a way to enjoy the space, safely and together. May the spirit of Public Relations prevail.
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