We often hear the phrase that a collective tragedy brings out the best in us, it redeems our faith in humanity. We witness humans coming together for the greater good. We can point to numerous examples throughout history to validate this observation: the September 11 terrorist attacks (aka 911), natural disasters such as fires, earthquakes, floods and tornados and sadly mass shootings. Our screens are filled with images of everyday people demonstrating acts of heroism and altruism. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
We are in the midst of the largest collective tragedy that I have ever experienced in my lifetime: the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Let me repeat that. We are in the middle of a WORLDWIDE pandemic. This illness is not limited to a certain geographic region. It is touching every single one of us. Will this collective tragedy bring out the best in us? Will it redeem our faith in humanity? I’d like to say “Yes! Unequivocally, it will!”. And, at times, I have my doubts. Sorry to be a bummer.
Let me explain. It has to do with how we react to fear. Animals are wired to survive. Under a perceived threat, our Fight, Flight and Freeze mechanism responds automatically. It’s pretty awesome, actually. I’m grateful that I don’t have to take the time to think about which way to steer my car to avoid a head-on collision. It just happens. We can thank our amygdala (aka our lizard brain) for this. Along with this super-cool, built-in survival mechanism comes fear-based emotions such as panic and anger.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Again, these are useful emotions attached to our survival instinct. Panic says “Run…Hide!”. Anger says “Fight!”. Useful, right? Well, yes, until they aren’t. These fear-based emotions are designed to get our attention and respond quickly in the short-term in order to get us out of the danger zone. What we are experiencing right now is anything but short-term. We are weeks into this pandemic and for some parts of the world, months. Our Fight, Flight and Freeze response is perpetually turned on right now. Multiply this by, oh, let’s say, the WORLD POPULATION. I think you see where I’m going with this line of thought. There is a pervasive and palpable fear rippling through the human race right now. As a result, we are doing things like making a run on the stores, hoarding toilet paper, stockpiling food. We are listening to our survival instinct in order to protect ourselves. These aren’t exactly examples of humans being their best selves.
The good news is that we also have frontal lobes! Yep, that part of the brain that allows for higher-level thinking can also help manage the amygdala’s instinctual response to fear. It does take a bit of work though. Higher-level thinking is not automatic. It takes practice to notice the stories that our frontal lobes are creating as a result of the lizard brain sending off the alarm bells. Yes, I said stories. Our minds love to create stories to make sense of the emotions we are feeling. If we are panicked, our mind creates a story that explains why we are panicked. This often feeds back into the fear and the story only grows more scary and so on, and so on, and so on. Which is why you have the urge to hoard toilet paper and stockpile food.
The bit of good news about having frontal lobes and are ability to notice our thoughts is that we don’t have to believe everything we think. We can choose to think differently. I know it doesn’t feel like it especially right now. But, it’s true! Think of it as a kind of “superpower”. You can access it at any time. There is no better time to tap into this superpower than now. Panic is normal under these extraordinary circumstances. Notice the story attached to the panic. Challenge it. Question it. Turn it upside down. WE (all of us – the Collective We) have an amazing opportunity to create a different story. Imagine the power to shift from fear to love. For as contagious as fear is, so is love. How do you want to be remembered once this is all said and done?
This pandemic will define us. How do you want to be defined? Let’s try to Find the Good even in this incredible time of Hard. Let’s lean into love and away from fear. Maybe it’s time to give away some of that toilet paper to someone who really needs it right now. How do you want to be remembered when this is all said and done?