(As published in the Herald Sun on 8th January 2021)

Dear Leaders, Premiers, Health officers and others

I am sure that each and every one of us wants this to be over. We want to move on with our lives, work, families and communities.

Many people lost loved ones to Covid-19 or as a result of the fall-out from it. Small businesses and whole economies collapsed under lockdown. Unemployment, suicide, domestic violence, divorce and addiction rates skyrocketed, and global hunger and homelessness doubled.  We are a planet and a nation in grief and disarray.

No matter whether we are white, black, male, female, binary, gay, straight, red, blue, rich, poor, young or old, we are made of the same stuff. And we are all here for such a short time. And that time should be precious. Lived with love, passion, compassion, joys and sorrows…lived how we choose to live, so long as we do no harm to others.

Over these past months of pandemic-hysteria we have increasingly seen bitching, sniping, dobbing, petty power struggles, one-upmanship and increasing self-interest and authoritarianism; and with it the loss of our mental and physical health and many of our freedoms. Freedoms we have fought for and which are part of our birth right as a human being living in this great nation.  Our spirits long just ‘to be’ … in peace, without the constant noise. To appreciate the beauty of nature, the power of love, the opportunities to use our creative gifts to build things of value and contribute to our communities and those less fortunate.

This week it was announced by our Prime Minister that the lyrics of our national anthem were being changed from ‘young and free’ to ‘one and free’. These are important words. Yet we are neither ONE nor are we free.

As the latest Covid outbreaks show, our daily life is now at the whim of our Premiers and their Chief Health Officers. There is no shared discussion and no sense of a cohesive plan forward for Australia.  We try to make plans to live our precious, short lives; to see our loved ones; to create meaningful work and businesses, to relax, take holidays and to just be. Yet the noise never stops. With every single case of Covid the reaction is disproportionate and the imposition on our lives more and more untenable.

It needs to be said:  We are not children. And the more we are treated like children by those who claim to know better, the more we behave like children. We give up on our dreams and simply take the hand-outs that are offered. We turn off the toxic news and turn on Netflix to escape. We are silenced into submission because we simply cannot be bothered to resist any more.

The more we are talked down to like children, and the more our internal and external borders are shut, the more divided we become. We are no longer one cohesive and inclusive nation. When we are forced to wear masks and quarantine in unliveable environments, the more you take away the essence of who we are and who we want to be.

Masks hide our true intentions and submerge our emotions. Our real self begins to fade away as this new masked being gains power and takes a hold on our psyches. The more we wear the mask, the more we are silenced.  We become voiceless, invisible…. puppets pulled by the strings of Governments, health systems, media, big tech retailers and…at their mercy…

It’s time to speak with one another as grown, mature human beings. We all want a better future. Let’s stop dividing and putting up the walls between us. Remove the boxes and labels that isolate and separate us….and turn off the phones and TVs that keep us distracted from what really matters. We are becoming more disconnected from ourselves, each other, and the planet each day that goes by

We have to accept that this virus cannot be eradicated permanently, like all the ones before it, and the ones to follow. So, let’s start looking after one another with kindness and compassion and find a way forward.  As Victor Frankl said in A Man’s Search for Meaning: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”   Freedom is found when we change ourselves and how we relate to each circumstance.  I encourage every one of you who is playing the role of Father Government or Mother Medical expert to look inside and think about how you want to live this one precious life.

Take off your masks and free us from ours so we can get back to who we really are at the core of our beings. Imagine if we could start to light up everything that was deep within us…speak our truth and respect the other. Imagine the light that we could shine into the cracks and crevices, revealing the true beauty of each man and woman, each human being, unmasked, free…vulnerable yet whole…as one.

So dear leaders, it’s time you give us the opportunity to really grow up and take responsibility for our own lives.  Then we might actually have a chance to solve this and many of our other wicked problems collectively. And we can honestly sing in unison, with the full passion of our human spirits, we are one and free.

Tania de Jong AM is a social entrepreneur and soprano and Founder of Mind Medicine Australia and Creativity Australia. She is passionate about mental health, innovation, diversity and inclusion.