#7 - As We Inch Back Toward Normalcy - Be Kind, Don't Judge
After months of enduring the ravages of Covid-19, many states are cautiously loosening prior restrictions and stay-at-home orders. Many regard this as essential development, to preserve the economy, and prevent the entire dissolution of businesses, communities, and lives. Others regard it as dangerous and premature. A war of words over these differing opinions has resulted - each side citing scientists and doctors supporting their own view.
I have seen the personal side of this conflict, as I have counseled people this past week. For many of my clients, the loosened restriction represents a longed-for liberation, a sign of renewed hope. "Finally - I can get back to work, and not lose everything I've worked so hard for all these years!" "Finally - I can stop dying of loneliness, and see other human beings again!" "Finally - I can stop watching too much Netflix and CNN, and start living my life again!" "Finally - I can let me kids go outside and play again, rather than just playing video games and fighting with each other, trapped inside all day!"
But others of my clients report a very different view of these same events. "How can people be so selfish?" "Don't they realize they're putting themselves and everyone around them at risk?" "This is going to result in so much more death and suffering. How can people be so stupid?" These clients often report feelings of rage, distrust, and intense suspicion - accompanied by high anxiety and despair - and sometimes escalating to intense conflict with those around them who take a different view, or choose a different response.
Same Pandemic - Different Life Experience
As I listened to my clients - as well as to family members, Facebook friends, and others - expressing these opposing views, I realized something. If we're not very, very careful - we could very easily add an emotional pandemic to the physical one - doing even more harm, in an even more lasting way. If we allow ourselves to judge and marginalize others, to label and demonize them because their response is different than ours - then the devastation of coronavirus itself could be eclipsed by the disruption of human connection and human relationship.
Now, more than ever, we need each other. We've often heard the phrase, "We're all in this together." And we are! And yet - the daily life experience we each undergo may be vastly different from person to person. Our choices result from our perspective, and our perspective is shaped by our daily life experience.
This came into clear focus a few days ago, when data was released showing a state-by-state comparison of Covid infections and deaths in the United States. The differences between states were striking.
In Utah, my home state, 61 deaths have been reported. According to local news, these have been almost exclusively in senior citizens with significant prior health challenges. In contrast, California has experienced 2,463 deaths, and New York (the most severely impacted state) has experienced 26,978 deaths. Meanwhile, Wyoming has seen only 7 deaths.
Not surprisingly, highly impacted states retain high levels of restriction - while less impacted states have moved more quickly toward opening businesses and permitting expanded activity. It would be unrealistic to have the same levels of restriction in the wide open spaces of sunlit Wyoming, as are experienced in the cramped, overcrowded streets of New York, where disease can spread so easily and so quickly, and where natural sunlight is sparce.
Again - Our choices result from our perspective, and our perspective is shaped by our daily life experience. This is true of nations, of states, of families, and of individuals. Because our life experiences differ, our choices and responses will differ. We do ourselves and others needless additional harm, when we insist that everyone conform to our own view - though their life experience may be markedly different from our own.
Other Factors Shaping Personal Perspective
Besides simple geography, I have observed some additional factors that strongly influence the perspectives and response patterns of individuals in this crisis. In particular, these include:
1) Personal and Family Health: Covid-19 has proved to be most deadly among those with pre-existing health challenges, including heart disease, diabetis, and obesity. Not surprisingly, therefore, individuals struggling with these challenges are likely to feel more frightened, and prefer to maintain higher levels of precaution. The same is true for family members of those struggling with their health.
2) Workplace: Health care workers and others who are daily battling on the front lines of the worst-case scenarios will inevitably see the worst of the worst, as this pandemic rages on. Understandably, their perspective is impacted by what they see - and as a result, they likewise prefer a more cautious pace in the return to normalcy. Likewise, those able to work comfortably from home, making money through their Zoom screens or computer applications, may likewise be more content with a slow cautious approach.
Meanwhile, those who have lost their jobs, can't pay their bills, worry about the permanent destruction of their livelihoods, and are trapped in small confining spaces during quarantine may feel a more urgent need to get out of the house and back to work.
3) Family Situation: Those living alone or with a few other adults tend to have an easier time adjusting to quarantine conditions than those with small children at home - especially working parents who find themselves needing to provide for their families, see to their childrens' newly home-based education, and provide normal nurture, care, and play opportunities for their little ones. Families with children are among the most anxious to get back to work, and get back to normal life.
So though we face the same pandemic, we see it through different eyes, face it withinin different challenges, and make the best individualized decisions we can, within this unprecedented and unmarked territory. The longer this pandemic endures, the more likely we are, therefore, to see a wide variety of response patterns in those around us - based on the factors mentioned here, and many others specific to the individuals involved.
So - Be Kind, Don't Judge
So, in this unsettling but necessary process of deciding how each of us should proceed from here - it is essential that we extend respect and compassion to each other, as we make our individual decisions and plans - state by state, family by family, industry by industry, and individual by individual.
Our circumstances are not identical, so our choices are not going to be identical. Now, more than ever, we need to be kind to each other - to recognize that we're all scared, we're all struggling, and ultimately we're all doing the best we can to make sense of a difficult situation, and to make our way forward in an uncertain time.
In the meantime - be safe, be wise, care for yourself and others. Find wilderness. Dance in the sunshine. Find the good in things. Appreciate those around you. Things are hard - but slowly, one person at a time, we make our way through this, and press on towards a happier time.
-- Carrie M. Wrigley, LCSW
Counselor, Speaker, and Author of
Your Happiness Toolkit: 16 Strategies for Overcoming Depression,
and Building a Joyful, Fulfilling Life
> Available as a paperbook, ebook, or audiobook.