Why do people…
Recently I dreamed up a group game (not yet piloted), where you come up with an opening phrase together, then each person makes a prediction, or several, of the suggested completions will be offered by the search engine to which it’s offered. Without checking first, my predictions for this one, in these times, are:
- “…get Coronavirus?”
- “…fail to observe social distancing in public?”
- “…think serious inconveniences experienced by them during the pandemic are signs of government incompetence?”
Okay, this last one is not likely, but it’s what I’m wondering. As I peruse narratives in the news and the social media posts of my family and friends, I observe a pattern of thinking that these things we hear happening to other people (and how unfortunate, but inevitable at the population scale, we dispassionately observe), will not and ought not happen to me personally. We can comfortably swap homie images, post humorous pandemic memes and count our blessings as we bide our time.
If we are hit by a negative consequence, by God were not going to calmly accept it, acknowledging that it’s merely unfortunate, but equally inevitable at the population scale; nothing personal. No, by god, it must be someone’s fault. The government not taking quick enough action, or taking action too quickly, thus curbing my personal freedoms, seemingly being the favorite. Or, if blame cannot be assigned, then there’s a call to battle of some kind at least, starting with telling and retelling, and trying to follow the spidery threads of cause and effect, reaching out for solutions that might not be available.
Religious folks have the recourse of thinking that finding themselves in the negative subset of the odds is actually a message from the gods to wake up, count their blessings, not take their divine help for granted, repent and be healed, or acknowledge the power of karma and tighten up the ethical framework. The sects that consider themselves the chosen righteous will be content to consider these events part of an attack by the prince of darkness, a spiritual battle in the heavenly domains, to be overcome by prayer and fasting.
It’s all just human nature, the expressions of adaptive coping mechanisms that have evolved in the human collective psyche and therefore culture.
An attitude of accepting one’s fate is another way of responding. Modern Western culture calls this “victim mentality” and rejects it as dysfunctional, but because it is common and even prevalent in some cultures, it too must have adaptive value, says evolutionary theory. It can even be empowering in a different way, as it can lead to a ceasing of pointless (and/or dangerous) struggle and regaining of personal and social peace as well as a rationing of energies for more important things.
When my own life is more closely impacted (and odds are it will be), I will resort to my own ingrained (DNA plus nurture) ways of thinking and acting. In the past this has included all of the above, and I can see precursors of the same as I mentally extrapolate likely unfortunate scenarios of my future life. I also notice a reluctance to think of these scenarios at all, except as a stimulus to get ready. But one never can really get ready for a beloved elder to get sick and die, for someone we know or ourselves to get so sick it’s hard to breathe and we struggle to keep the house stocked with necessities or ask for help when one is infected. To picture a severe reduction in personal freedom, a descent into poverty and dependence of my children and friends, even myself, a future of limited opportunity in the ways we have had before, of the collapse of industries, housing values, retirement investments, power and resource grabs by wealthy one percenters or foreign entities enabled by the recession, these are not what my mind wants to dwell on, except as I may be able to mitigate the future vulnerability of those I love by taking action now.
For now I am comfortably detached. My adult children are all around home, including the one who was in another state, two are still able to work, one is supported by Social Security child’s benefits, and I am a state employee and so far assured of a steady income despite the closure of my work place. This puts me in a position to offer some day labor and/or housing to my kids and/or their friends who are recently out of work until special emergency unemployment insurance provisions take effect. My regular necessary contacts are few, my elderly relatives are relatively self sufficient and/or well cared for by others. I live mortgage-free, can leave my retirement investments in their place in the hopes of recovery. I have a spacious yard and places to enjoy the outdoors safe from contamination. I am checking my privilege, and this is only part. I do have to urge the young adults in my life to follow social distancing protocol with any contacts who have other contacts, as the adaptive behavior among the young tens toward remaining as adventurous and free of restraint as possible.
The attitude I want to choose is still hope, mindful use of intelligence and compassionate instincts, of expectation and participation in a new flowering of resilience and creativity that will enable us to look back and say, “All in all, we rocked that time, that pandemic thing. And we can do it again when the next thing comes.” As far as I can say THIS IS THE RIGHT WAY TO THINK AND BE, I can say it about that. It’s right to be hopeful, whether it’s by complaining, sounding the alarm, accepting, battling, joking, grieving, keeping busy, waiting it out, plodding along, ignoring, creating, strategizing, sheltering, plunging in or running away. It takes all kinds to make a world in this already short, potentially beautiful life we live as individual souls and in community.