These are strange times — or rather, they are unfamiliar. Current economic and social conditions stand out from what we would call normality, like a pimple on the end of a nose.
Against the background of what we call everyday normality, the problems we are experiencing seem extraordinary. But the apparent normality of what has gone before has passed. To lament it is not helpful and doesn’t allow us deal with the material and symbolic reality of now.
I see these days we live as representative of the nature of the curve. It is an ebb and flow, an up and down, an in and out. Just like the seasons, conditions such as these come and go, only the current lows are lower and sharper now than many of us can recall.
We can blame the Chinese, our government, foreign workers or any other group that doesn’t conform with our world view. Point the finger at tourists, the guy on the corner who just sneezed without using a tissue, or whoever we want.
It won’t change the fact that every one of us is complicit in the apparent crisis by virtue of our participation in the game.
The Inevitable Onset of Crisis
Western industrialised culture is built on consumerism — the more stuff we buy, the more industry grows, the more jobs we have and so on. If something makes little sense from an economic and financial standpoint, then it’s unlikely to happen.
In the drive for greater commercial efficiency people become statistics, numbers on a spreadsheet, and as such, can be written off. We dehumanise and deindividuate and subvert ourselves to the momentum of the social order.
As psychologist Philip Zimbardo says in his book The Lucifer Effect; “[people] derive their sense of identity and well-being from their immediate surroundings rather than from within themselves”. It is for this reason that I believe when the shit hits the fan we cannot cope.
“The most apparent thing that I noticed was how most of the people in this study derive their sense of identity and well-being from their immediate surroundings rather than from within themselves, and that’s why they broke down — just couldn’t stand the pressure — they had nothing within them to hold up against all of this.”― Philip G. Zimbardo | Social Psychologist.
I’m reminded of the big snow we had here a few years ago. We rarely get snow, but on this occasion we did, and it was one of the biggest on record.
People were housebound for days. Shops ran out of basic provisions and some people were freaking out. I had no equipment for shifting the snow and no proper clothes for the weather. By and large, me and everyone I knew were poorly prepared. Our weaknesses, both individually and collectively, were exposed, and it’s the same today with coronavirus.
The normality of the social order, upon which we are so conditioned and dependent, has been disrupted beyond recognition. Our personal and social identity has been threatened, and we enter the inevitable crisis wondering how this happened.
What To Do Now
The materialisation of COVID-19 has changed things dramatically, not just locally, but internationally. There has been an amplification of heights and depths of the waveform and people are suffering, but some are prospering. Maybe the virus was a malicious attack, maybe it was not. It exists regardless, and we now occupy a new reality with which we must learn to cope.
So what do we do about it?
Well, we can freak out, panic buy toilet rolls and circulate unsubstantiated and negative content on social media. Or we can accept our conditions and, from a calm and measured state of mind, do what is necessary right now.
So what do I mean “do what is necessary”?
Well, if you’re in turmoil, then it may be too late for you to do what is necessary. If you take action from an anxious and panicked state, then it’s unlikely you’ll get the result you were after. If you can remain calm, then results might be different, and if they are not, it won’t matter. You’ll likely be better able to cope, regardless.
If we stop and take a breath for a moment, and rather than considering COVID-19 as a catastrophe, we instead see it as an opportunity, then things will shift.
- Equities are at 3, 5, 10 year lows. Time to buy?
- Vulnerable people need your help. Can you contribute?
- Government agencies need supplies and personnel. Can you sell products or services?
- Downtime is a chance to reflect on priorities and reconnect with family. Can you take time to get to know your kids better?
- You’ve lost your job. Take the opportunity to work for yourself?
It seems to me that these conditions may stick around for a period, but they will pass, so let’s get on with living as best we can. Focus on what you can do now to be effective and take your mind off fantasies of future catastrophe. The prospect of doom is always worse than the reality lived in my experience.
I’m not suggesting that we stick our heads in the sand, or do the opposite and go hyper-positive. Denial is denial whether you freak out or naively push fake positivity on everyone.
What I’m saying is that the future we imagine never gets here, and the past we lament can never be returned. The only point we can be effective is right now, so do we wait for someone else to change our experience or do we change it ourselves?
There appears to be a crisis — I accept that. But I believe how we process these conditions is about perspective. The longer we stay hitched to how things were, the greater will be the adjustment.
So we have a choice to make.
“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”― Dr. Seuss