Everyone is dealing with the science-fiction novel we’ve found ourselves in the middle of in their own way. Introverts are snuggling in with a secret smile, while extraverts literally and figuratively climb the walls. People of all social inclinations with anxiety are struggling. We’re all trying to figure out how much food to buy, how seriously to take the precautions.
Time to Reflect
While, like many of you, I am fearful of what may be coming, and I certainly do not want anyone to suffer or die, I find myself experiencing a kind of gratitude about this moment. At last, I can stop pretending that these other things matter more than being at home with my family. I can spend a little more time thinking about and caring for people I love, and doing things I enjoy. I’m grateful that our society that never stops is being forced to take a sabbath and stop to breathe.
Paul of Tarsus, who wrote much of the New Testament, liked to refer to himself as “chief among sinners” when explaining what people should do. I love that phrase because it reminds me to not be high and mighty when making recommendations. So please understand I’m chief among sinners when I tell you to unplug from social media some. I had to stop yesterday and just listen to white noise for an hour because I got my social media flywheel spinning.
Anxiety doesn’t just manifest as direct fear of bad things and that feeling in your stomach. It can also manifest as obsessive news checking, or”patrolling” back and forth among sites to find out what’s happening and how people are doing. That’s how mine shows in times like these. So unplug, and take some time doing something else, anything else. Play a game, go outside (at a safe distance from your neighbors), cook a meal that you wouldn’t typically take the time to prepare.
I encourage you to use some of this quiet time to reconnect with your spiritual practices. When the world around us is quiet, we’re faced with ourselves. Frankly, that’s why most of us keep ourselves so busy — so we don’t have to face ourselves and our pain. Our busy world being slowed to a halt is the emotional equivalent of being placed in a sensory deprivation tank. The difference is that instead of hallucinations, we’re instead faced with the emotions and fears we’ve been suppressing to maintain our function in this obsessively productive society.
I am a Christian and find the notion of being able to lay my weaknesses and fears out before God to take and replace with God’s strength and power comforting, but other people may experience that differently. Whatever you do, take some time each day to connect with your spiritual source, meditate, and calm your soul.
Time To Give
Even as I write about my gratitude, I recognize what a privileged position I sit in to even think about a month or more off in that way. I worry for my friends who are in the service industry or who work in other fields that will be hammered by this quarantine. I encourage us to check in on those folks and consider redirecting our donations to large organizations to local groups that care for people in precarious jobs like The Giving Kitchen or your local equivalent. Buy gift certificates for local restaurants that you can use when this is over.
If you know people directly, you can give directly as you feel led and as you feel comfortable. Not loan, give. And wherever you give, do it locally. If we all focus on our community rather than on the loudest or most well-marketed groups out there, we can ensure that everyone is covered.
A Human-Centered Society
The phrase that has been on my mind a lot lately is “human-centered“. We have constructed a profit and productivity-centered society, instead of a human-centered society. When computers increased our productivity, we decided to produce a lot more instead of pay that dividend to people in terms of a shorter work-week or better pay. The 40-hour workweek itself is a construct, granted one that saved us from a worse scenario, but it is not based in any psychology or science that I am aware of. There are no rules that require humans to be busy on tasks that don’t directly keep them alive and are not spiritually or mentally fulfilling for 40 hours a week.
We’re learning a lot of things about our society that we thought were true simply are not. Slate published an article talking about this issue a directly and coarsely, but their points are completely on. If we are suspending student loan interest for a crisis, why have it at all if student loans are an investment in our people? If wildly profitable businesses find it in their hearts to offer paid leave all of a sudden, or jails choose not to hold low-risk offenders, or we stop shutting off water, why can’t we just have that as part of a society? These are the questions people well on the left of our political spectrum have been asking all along.
When this ends, and God willing, it will end in the next few weeks, there will be a return to social, busy life. When the businesses and government entities that so benevolently enacted human-centered policies try to roll them back, let’s stay their hand. Let’s ask, “If you survived this, let’s stop and do the math. Could you survive such policies permanently?”
Why shouldn’t most people who can do so work remote, reducing traffic and stress and increasing productivity per unit of time worked?
Why can’t we have a society with guaranteed paid leave?
Why should people spend protracted amounts of time in jail for non-violent, low-risk offenses?
What are the services do we see as necessary to public health that we don’t provide until there’s a global emergency?
Should we keep providing those so that we can mitigate another emergency?
When we return, let’s not plug back into the proverbial Matrix. Let’s demand a human-centered approach to every aspect of our society. Let’s build a society where cold, metallic towers of money aren’t the only place we can find joy, where hoarding resources isn’t necessary because we are whole inside and don’t need to fill a hole with things.
It sounds idealistic and ridiculous to many. But isn’t the idea that the entire industrial complex would pull together to enact human-centered policies in less than a week to prevent a pandemic from killing us all ridiculous? Isn’t it ridiculous that for all our wealth and productivity, we are so vulnerable in the first place because we haven’t thought about the human cost of what we’ve built?
Stay smart, stay safe, and may God bless and keep you and those you love through this season.