Each of us has it within our grasp to “frame” each situation in the way that “suits” us in that moment. Like moving cameras/projectors, we move about our ‘world’ taking pictures, refocusing those pictures, replaying those pictures, and then storing them in another kind of “frame” as to where they belong in our personal archive of memories.
In a kind of paradoxical way, while we are ‘sorting and filing and storing,’ we are also projecting these pictures onto our own screen as well as onto the screen in the room where we sit. And while it is in constant flux or flow, our archive is one of the bases of what we consider to be our identity. Our pictures of “who” we are, and “how we have become and are becoming that person, shedding each and every single cell every single year, and replacing them with new cells, our minds are continuing to ‘discover’ images along with the thoughts, feelings and the gestalt of that “moment” currently on our screen.
We are introduced to “laws of physics,” and “laws of human development,” and “laws of gravity,” as well as “laws of biology, geology, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, and then the finer “laws” of each of the academic disciplines. Simultaneously we are learning about the ‘laws’ that govern our behaviour, land law, commercial law, criminal law, contracts law, and the many processes through which any of our needs, complaints, conflicts and aspirations must pass in order to move toward recognition, respect and perhaps even reward.
We “learn” both through cognitive memory and through the experiences that cross our paths, including the faces and voices of others both formally assigned to our mentorship and those who accidentally and “fatefully” appear in our space.
In each situation, we listen to and watch the words, attitudes, beliefs, and actions of those who have preceded us, in our family, our school, our town, and our nations. In turn, we reflect on what flows into our conscious minds, and what flows into and through our unconscious, although the latter is much less visceral and risks being missed. We also interact with the ‘things’ that comprise our little world, like our phones, our laptops, our televisions, our vehicles, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the messages that affirm or disclaim our particular choices.
And when we each face a serious threat/challenge/opponent/illness and potentially death, we somehow revert, according to one of the ‘laws’ of psychology, to our default position, the one that seems to have been our preferred “framing” of the situation in the past. Often described as “fight or flight,” this default position, however, is much less easily and neatly boxed as one gets older. For the child, however, it is eminently reasonable that such a choice is paramount, depending on the degree of the threat, and the depth to which it penetrates his or her “heart”. And for much of the public discourse, similar binary choices apply to the public messages delivered by leaders charged with managing the crisis. To close all schools, or not, to send all workers home or not, to ban all public gatherings or not, to test all citizens or not, to put the country on a war footing or not….these are all public discussions, debates and eventually decisions that political, health, security and academic thinkers and leaders will have to face.
Classifying any “event” (itself something of a misnomer, given the extensive and expansive dimensions of an evolving event into a dynamic that could/would/will continue to reverberate over a protracted period of time) as, for example an economic crisis, or a health crisis fails to grasp the interconnection and inter-dependence of both aspects of the current pandemic. And those who fail to perceive, believe and accept it first as a “health” crisis, with economic, national security, environmental, and perhaps even existential aspects, are risking the potential options and processes needed to confront the crisis.
An invisible, barely discernible microbe which infects an individual prior to that individual’s exhibiting symptoms of the infection tends to defy many of the threats for which we have prepared. Measuring devices of its invasion, while needed, along with ways to discern how and whom it most seriously impacts, form a reasonable basis from which to plan our most comprehensive and effective response. And while we search and research all of the many ‘faces’ of the pandemic, from the multiple perspectives of its appearance in terms of geography, demography, alacrity, political sensibilities, and even ideology, it is dropping its imprint among all of us, especially in large groups.
Self-interest, as compared with the plague of political narcissism, is part of the personal emergency aid kit of each of us, and that too does not contain or fulfil our human response. Knowing that each of us can be both a recipient and a carrier/spreader of this microbe, all men and women are burdened and gifted with the responsibility and the opportunity to be both victim and healer/rescuer/warrior.
Looking through the lens of “a war effort” against this microscopic enemy that knows no national, gender, age, economic, intellectual, religious or ethnic boundaries, we are quite literally compelled, by nature if not by reason and our health care professionals, to drop our pretenses of both superiority and inferiority, of our mentally, and geographically “gated” communities, of our “inside versus outside” perspectives, given that we have all been struck somewhat blind, deaf and dumb by this ‘creature’ of the night. While the epidemiologists have considerably more knowledge and experience with pandemics than the rest of us, and the “modellers” have been doing what they do while we have not, those charged with fundamental decisions in every “polis” are, like the rest of us, dependent on both the experts and their own character, including their capacity for compassion, insight, clarity of both thought and courage.
And while we have no choice but to drop our conscious and unconscious pretenses to power and prestige, rendering us somewhat frightened and vulnerable, we are being asked, seemingly by the gods of the universe, to listen to the rest of the world, all of the nations and towns and cities, in order to develop a “common front” against this scourge.
And that basic requirement is a fundamental threat to everything that we have been raised to accept:
· that our nation is special,
· that our culture is what holds us together,
· that our gender is our most defining feature,
· that science and empirical knowledge is our saviour,
· that the unconscious and the imaginative and the spiritual are either luxuries we cannot afford or dangerous influence we cannot tolerate,
· that our status on the social, political, economic and spiritual totem poles of our communities is what we must defend and preserve
· that our “systems” to develop every human in our lands are our best instruments to prevent devastation of our most vulnerable
· that our neglect of our poor, our racially different and our refugees is merely benign neglect not worthy of leading our public debate and public decision-making
· that cities are more important than towns, and towns more important than rural municipalities, and that industrious and fiscally sound communities deserve more public attention than those lagging behind
· that the battles for gender equality are paramount to our survival as a species
· that the use of military might is the best answer to our personal and national security
· that our concentration on hard power will “protect” us from all enemies
· that our “divides” engender the most efficacious pursuit of excellence among all individuals
· that short-term reactive, narcissistic and self-serving leaders illustrate the most ethical and appropriate role models
· that young people, like Greta Thunberg, are merely whistling in the wind
· that we really do “know” what we are doing with the finite, fragile and even sacred blessings of our planet’s essential nature
And under such serious and perhaps even existential threats, there will be the inevitable, totally predictable and lethal demand to “hunker down” in our metaphoric, and perhaps even literal “bunkers”, whether those be our individual homes, our towns, our nations or our offices. Observers are already predicting the erosion of the European Union, given the various countries’ closing borders to human and produce and trade, and refusing to adopt the more challenging and also more potentially rewarding posture of collaboration, co-operation, open discussion and deliberately “getting to “yes” rather than “no” as the negotiating manuals even for dummies advise.
There is, lurking in civilization’s history as well as in our multiple mythologies, what the Greeks called “Thanatos”…the god who brought peaceful deaths to the underworld, as opposed to Hades, the god of the underworld. Thanatos was the god or personified spirit of non-violent death, with a gentle touch, likened to his brother Hypnos (sleep), as compared with Thanatos’ blood-craving sisters, the Keres, spirits of slaughter and disease. (Wikipedia)
While it is not timely to talk about “gentle death” when we are facing the prospect of perhaps thousands of untimely passing’s, it is perhaps relevant to bring to the consciousness of our death-denying and perhaps even in some instances death-defying culture, the notion that we are all facing our own mortality. And that universal, shared destiny is another very significant, and potentially life-giving reality from which none of us can escape. And if the current pandemic erodes our denial of death, and opens us to the potential that accompanies every person who comes face to face with that prospect, and brings us all to a more realistic, and more supportive and more understanding and tolerant perspective of each other, (and our need for each other and our literal dependence on each other) as well as our attitude and willingness to compromise, to collaborate and to dedicate ourselves to the shared prospect of the survival and ennobling of all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, that could only be a long-term “platinum (not merely gold or silver) lining to this pandemic.
We are much more than divided by our gender, our ethnicity, our social status, our academic degrees, the size of our portfolios, our nationality, our wisdom and prophetic vision, our geographic distance and isolation, and our employment or unemployment status, just like our homelessness or not….we are all being found and declared equal, from the perspective of the microbe, as opportunity/enemy to infest, and from our perspective, as an ally. None of us have to attend at a recruiting office to enlist; the microbe has already done that for us. None of us have to take boot camp training, in order to serve; the microbe and our consciousness, as well as our unconscious, have already given us all the tools we need. None of us can use the excuse that we have nothing to give; our persons, our consciousness of each other, our neighbours, our families, our primary care workers, and our leaders…we are already ALL that we need to be to serve our shared future and destiny…we all need each other now more than at any time in the last century, perhaps.
And if this reads like a trumpet blasting the silent and hollow melodies of utopias beyond comprehension and also beyond reality, it might be time to reflect on the nature of the lens through which we are trying to “see”. Hope is, like this enemy, an invisible yet highly energized force of antibodies already “bottled”, and delivered in each and every email of compassion, and every call on a neighbour or shut-in, and in each u-tube thanking our public health workers, as well as in each and every phone call between leaders who otherwise fight for supremacy in trade talks, or in cyber-security strategies.
We live in the laboratories, our minds, hearts and bodies, that consistently and persistently produce resounding choruses of hope, brilliant bouquets of the flaming red roses of hope, and the crystal, spring-waters of hope that flow from the pens and the lips of all people who love and care for our species. And without all of the expressions of hope we can imagine and deliver, the tests and the vaccines, and the pharmaceuticals for harnessing this virus will be in vain.