The current health emergency is tangibly threatening our instinct to survive. Moreover, the resulting isolation is also affecting an impulse strictly connected to survival, which is our need for recognition – our need for strokes. Not to mention our need for freedom.
Covid-19 is exposing our most emotional part. We feel frightened, threatened and in danger, and all these feelings might lead to anxiety. Anxiety is the anticipatory fear that prompts us to probe and examine an uncertain situation. It activates in our body before the feared event even occurs. Indeed, the uncertainty brought about by this infamous virus is frightening, but the thing is, that fear could quickly lead us into a state of suffering, and eventually panic. And when we panic, we go out of whack. This is to say that if we let our emotional sensitivity be pushed to the limit, we run the risk of focusing on the effects of the situation, rather than the causes. This undermines our ability to understand, choose, and decide.
My starting point is that human beings are resourceful and can always find solutions, so here are some suggestions I would like to share with you:
Could this health crisis overturn our perceptions?
From an 'all outside' situation to an 'all inside' situation
Most of the time, the motivation that leads us to interact with others is a practical need and/or an obligation. Of course, we also gain satisfaction from the interaction, but it’s hard for us to recognise it because we are too busy fulfilling the objectives of our relation.
First practical suggestion
How about remembering the other motivation that leads us to interact with the others? I am referring to what the sociologist Georg Simmel called the 'impulse to sociability', which is that 'sense of satisfaction' brought about by the sheer pleasure of being with the other, regardless of the objectives of the relation itself. Coronavirus is almost bringing us to a halt, forcing us home. Could that be a chance for us to rediscover the essential? How would that affect our lives? We call our colleagues to talk about work, but how about finding a moment for a video call just for the sheer pleasure of chatting with them, telling them about our day, without any direct utility?
Let’s connect for the sheer joy of feeling, speaking and looking at each other, even if from a distance!
We are fragile and vulnerable. Now more than ever, we are feeling helpless, faced with an unknown situation, despite the technological innovation, AI, globalisation…
Second practical suggestion
Can fragility help us to cope with the fear of this situation?
How about considering fragility a resource? A value we all share, something that can help us deal with issues and challenges? How about considering our wounds and scars as strengths that might unveil unexplored territories and new perspectives?
When you accept your fragility, you become aware of your genuine emotions, especially those we call 'negative'. This is a great resource because you can embrace those emotions as useful indicators of how you really feel about the problem, and you can benefit from a more balanced approach to cope with it. In our case, for instance, we don’t need to face Covid-19 forcing ourselves to be strong, continuously thinking about how we can face the situation. We could also let ourselves feel our sadness and helplessness. Doing so we can reconcile two parts of us: the one that minimises and the one that sees catastrophic scenarios. This inner negotiation is the first step to face the anguish of Covid-19. Once we have gone through this inner process, we can relate to others and to the world. When we are aware of our fragility, we become less self-centered. We quickly understand that we are part of a system. When our rationality reconciles with our fragility, our humanity shines at its best.
The solution is a logical and emotional connection!
The stroke economy
The psychotherapist Claude Steiner claimed that as children we were all indoctrinated by our parents with five restrictive rules about strokes, which are units of recognitions, or ways of controlling behaviour:
- Don't give strokes when you have them to give.
- Don't ask for strokes when you need them.
- Don't accept strokes if you want them.
- Don't reject strokes when you don't want them.
- Don't give yourself strokes.
Third practical suggestion
With this strong and physical ongoing deprivation of the other, do we really still want to live our life in this state of partial deprivation of strokes? We know that there’s no real limit to the exchange of strokes. That’s why it will be a profound pleasure for us to reclaim our spontaneity and intimacy in giving and receiving strokes. We can do that now, on a level of cognitive perception, and we can do that physically when this social distancing is over. Let’s make the other feel how much we miss them, and how important they are to us.
Let’s foster gratitude and solidarity!
I would like to conclude saying that human beings are made of body, psyche and spirit, hence I would like to share one last insight about our spiritual life.
I was a bit hesitant to bring up a cardinal virtue, but I will do it led by the thought of a theologian, Vito Mancuso.
Because of our isolation and the impossibility of fulfillling our commitments, we feel in a state of temporary disability. Suddenly we have had to change our habits, our priorities, and face new obstacles. We are all called upon to use our perseverance, determination, patience and endurance. In other words, we have had to resort to our fortitude. Mancuso describes fortitude as a strength with two directions: active, which is courage; and passive, which is resilience.
How can we use courage, our active strength, at this moment? To answer this question, I draw on the notion of 'Learning Level 3' expressed by Gregory Bateson, which is basically the idea of learning how to unlearn. That is, courage can help us let go of certainties, enabling us to peacefully embrace “healthy” changes, whether political, economic, professional, or relational, in view of a common good to be rebuilt. In doing so we can trust and rationalise when faced with unknown situations like the Covid-19 phenomenon.
Courage and responsibility go hand in hand, to find new ways of knowing and acting which are highly civilised and deeply social!
How can we use resilience, our passive strength, at this moment? Resilience will help us to maintain strong bonds, despite the isolation, and to cope with the unknown that frightens us. Through resilience we will be able to grasp the narrative value and the memory for the future that this moment contains.
Let’s protect ourselves and share what happens each day!
Roberta Martini is a Senior Consultant and Executive Coach at Impact Italia.