Hugh O'Donoghue

Hugh O’Donoghue: Building resilience during a crisis – the lessons we’ve learned from Covid-19

Hugh O’Donoghue, Communications and Media Officer for the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, gives his view on building resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown was a sharp shock for many, not least for me, my friends, and colleagues. It seemed that overnight (quite literally in some regards) we were forced to move our work-life home and adapt to a digital world. For me, who has spent much of their adult life working online and in a home environment – this was easy. For many, who were not, this was a great challenge.

The pandemic has highlighted for me the vast divide in digital literacy between generations. According to a 2019 DIT survey, over half of Irish adults lack the digital skills needed to compete in the workplace*. The lockdown caused many to scramble to adapt quickly to using digital media to communicate and conduct their business. During the pandemic, I was made aware of the large gap between people of different generations’ digital skillsets.

Intrinsically, I knew from speaking with older friends and colleagues that there is a knowledge gap between people in my age bracket (digital natives) and older people, but the lockdown caused me to pause and examine this divide. I often bristle at the term ‘digital native’, to me it smacks of the begrudgery that Baby Boomers direct towards Millennials, but the pandemic taught me – to paraphrase Bane from Batman – that my generation was born into digital literacy, while those from previous generations have had to adopt it. This lack of familiarity brings its own challenges, and one core belief I have gained first-hand from my experience facilitating digital literacy courses for adults and young people, is the difference in attitude between adults and children when it comes to learning.

Adults are encumbered by fear when it comes to learning, they fear looking foolish, breaking something, or failing. There’s a phrase that I have heard before and more readily during the lockdown, “I’m useless at technology”. This is a very self-defeating mindset, if you reinforce an idea that you are incompetent at something, you will start to believe it and it will deter you from learning it. Children’s outlook on this matter is antithetical to this, they are fearless when learning, they relish the opportunity to adapt to a new technology and process. I will admit that I was not immune to having to adapt, there were many aspects of our internal systems that I lacked familiarity with that I had to learn more rapidly than I would have liked. This nurtured an empathy in me with the less tech-savvy people: if I – as someone who has spent their entire lives learning emerging platforms – was having difficulty adapting, what would someone who had no prior experience have felt?

What I have learned from the crisis is that we – myself included – all need to be more childish – and I mean this in the best possible sense – in our approach to learning and to adapting to new technology. We need to dare to look foolish, break (and learn how to fix) things and be willing to fail and learn from these mistakes. Digital Literacy can and will foster resilience in our communities, it will allow us to communicate and learn rapidly. This is how we can learn to be better in the future.

(* Digital Literacy: Why It Matters, Kavanagh, O’Rourke, DIT, 2019)


Hugh O'Donoghue
Hugh O’Donoghue

Hugh O’Donoghue is the Communications and Media Officer for the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the largest members’ organisation for those working in the field of counselling and psychotherapy in Ireland. He is a filmmaker and writer; his book Urban Legends Heard in Ireland was published in 2010. He was formerly the National Outreach Coordinator for Young Irish Film Makers, a non-profit organisation that aims to empower young people with digital media literacy skills.