Speaking with a counselor acquaintance of mine recently, it seems that my impression of the compounding of existing impacts of Covid-19 isn’t far off of the mark. The world has gone gray and the landscape of the space where we expend most of our energy looks less like a series of wind sprints and more like a marathon. A sense of being tapped out for optimism, energy and agency can drive us from dysfunction to disengagement to despair.
Outrage that has erupted in the news cycles, on social media and in professional and personal spaces is our survival instinct working on overdrive against a threat whose impacts are both direct and oblique. There’s no single villain to blame, no single demographic or interest group to fault, no single dynamic whose mastery would liberate us from the complexities and complications that follow onto shifts in how we do life mandated by Covid-19.
Trump, Pelosi, Fauci, the Proud Boys and Antifa may make convenient targets, as do corporate interests, government’s scale driven inability to respond rather than react and the sad reality that there’s no “fix” for this. When the world is blue, we can connect with the source of our pain and feel the feels. Our emotions have a rationale or at least a causal object. When the world goes gray, however, there’s a lack of clarity around cause and cure.
Managing complexity is considered a higher order skill in every sphere, and at every level. We’re metaphorically dealing with a car crash as it happens to us personally. We’re functioning while the highway is congested by traffic that cannot flow past the scene of the accident. Cars are running into the rear of the line of cars already destroyed. The scene is being experienced, investigated, narrated and quantified simultaneously. Consequences of each impact are compounding the fallout of prior impacts. Individually, collectively and systemically, we’re in pain, vulnerable and working on partial solutions in the hopes of countering some of the damage.
Consider any demographic as the center of a wheel and its supports as the spokes and the scope and depth of damage is more apparent. Students are served by their parents, peers and teachers, all of whom must operate to fulfill their respective roles without using the normal channels of interaction. The youngest students, those with special needs and those who are economically disadvantaged are suffering. The elderly and infirm are served by family, friends and providers, all of whom must operate at a literal distance. The virtual space is a lifeline as a channel for the flow of information, economic activity and connection, but it lacks the elements of touch and the other physical senses beyond vision. It also lacks the element of the freedom to move about at will.
With all of these compounding dynamics and no certainty of a timetable with respect to a solution in the form of a safe vaccine or an economic and cultural reset in the form of the freedom to gather and to pursue our activities of choice at will, there’s a bottling up of very powerful emotions driven by anger, anxiety, depression, rage and sorrow. The key to conserving the greatest possible degree of functionality for each of us and for all of us in our felt experience of daily life lies as much in the management of our emotions, expectations and energies as in the finding of a vaccine or the successful remediation of impacts in other spheres.
More people are being dragged by circumstances and they are in turn dragging themselves and others into patterns of behavior that are toxic. Not knowing what is happening next or when things will improve can be triggering. Domestic violence, drinking and every form of acting out is on the rise. Collectively, we’re more angry and we are more violent that we were six months ago, before the fresh hell of Covid-19 turned into some sort of stale purgatory that we couldn’t figure out a way out of. We all want to think about the days ahead with hopefulness and with optimism. But- what if the mess that we are in sticks around and the world doesn’t come to rights in short order? It’s a scary question and one that we may not want to address. After all, why waste time and energy focusing on what could continue to go wrong instead of on what might go right?
We can’t wait for the good old days to come back. They’re gone. Somehow, we need to come to grips with that. Whether a vaccine is found soon and the economy recovers and the school year ahead is eventually its ordinary self isn’t the point. There are layers of impact to work out and the present landscape of our life labs is where we are faced with carrying out this essential, important and ultimately inescapable work.
As people and organizations, we are faced with a monumental challenge: we must figure out how to wrestle with our roles under the weight of heavier stress and with the complication of resources that are simply more difficult to access. Emotional intelligence is the coin of this new realm and the habit of engaging our curiosity about our own experience and that of others is the way that we can see things clearly.
The world may indeed have gone gray, but we can figure out how to focus so that we can see clearly and engage effectively as we work our way forward. It’s done just a moment at a time by mindfully refocusing our consciousness on the present moment. Neither our horror for the unknown nor our hopes for better outcomes can be permitted to distract us from the work. Doing the work that has presented itself now, irrespective of the fact that we didn’t choose the current context is the most liberating choice that we can make. And the one that will give us the best possible outcomes.
If you need support engaging consciously and mindfully with aspects of your career, family or other concerns, reach out. We’re here to help.