The Invisible Enemy

Subdue the Enemy without Fighting

Note: I wrote this in June and never published it. Here it is, November, and I think it’s still relevant. I decided to let it fly.

World War II.

I didn’t live through it, but that time period has always fascinated me because of the unfathomable impact it had on every person on the globe. To my thinking, it was the last time there was a world-wide cataclysmic occurrence that imposed severe and long-term changes in human lifestyle. And yet, it seems from what I’ve read, heard and seen, people took these sacrifices and shifts in stride because it was for the greater good. It brought people together for a common cause and they did what was necessary for right to triumph.

Fast-forward to 2020. There is a new global threat. Instead of everyone cooperating for the greater good, I see so much resistance – belligerence, even – about the smallest concession, the slight inconveniences. I observe the protests over what amounts to a temporary limitation of our creature comforts and habits. I’m not referring to real hardships like of loss of income or physical harm, but about the refusal of many to wear a mask and keep safe distance from others. There is a part of me that shakes my head and says, “How sad that these people can’t see that they are putting others (and me) in danger.” And then I wonder, “Why?” Why, with this new threat, are some people so unwilling to sustain a shift in their lifestyle for the greater good when it is so clear to many others that this is necessary?

Of course, there’s no easy answer, but a few thoughts have been rolling around in my head (or was that loose marbles?) that I wanted to put into words.

I am a studier of people. Observing behavior and the consequences of behavior is how I learn who and how I want to be in this world. It also helps me to respond from a place of understanding and compassion as opposed to reacting emotionally. As I put on my white lab coat and pick up my clipboard, a few hypotheses have risen.

The Invisible Enemy

Note: I conceived this metaphor without knowing that Trump used it relentlessly in March and April.

The overarching difference I see between the restrictions imposed during World War II and those we are experiencing with World War Coronavirus is that we are now dealing with an enemy that doesn’t have a face, at least maybe not until someone you know gets sick and/or dies. It is not shooting at you across a battlefield. It is not trying to dominate or enslave you, nor is it persecuting people by race or religion. This enemy has only one biologically-embedded agenda with no emotions attached: to survive. And you can’t see it coming. There are people who believe, consciously or other-wise, that because they can’t actually see the threat, there IS no threat. This same blindness to an invisible enemy can also be seen in those who, despite all evidence that a lifestyle choice is harming them –  maybe irreparably – continue practicing that choice…overeating, lack of physical activity, addiction, etc. Maybe if we had some kind of special eyeglasses that could make the virus (or the inside of our bodies) visible, we might be more willing to make different choices.

Instant Gratification and Diminished Attention Spans

My generation (Boomers) and those who came after are generally programmed for instant gratification. “Yeah, OK, I stayed home for a month, avoided close contact with people, wore the mask…did my duty. That’s long enough for me to put up with not being able to ___________(eat out, go to a bar, have a party, mob the boardwalk). I’m done. I want my life of pleasure back. And it’s inconvenient/uncomfortable to wear a mask.” I observe a lot of folks behaving like the danger is over and they can return to “normal.” As a rule, we haven’t been trained to practice patience or make long-term changes or sacrifices for the benefit of the network of life on the planet. I’d bet that a pre-Boomer would sing a more cooperative tune. They’ve been there, done that.

Misinformation and Gaslighting

There is so much conflicting information being thrown at us and there are still so many things about this virus that we don’t know or understand. There is a barrage of downright misinformation being disseminated and gaslighting continues at the highest level of government. Humans tend to want things to be settled; we are not, by nature, comfortable with uncertainty. To that end, we sometimes grab and hold onto ideas, positions and opinions for dear life whether they serve us or not. This is especially powerful if those ideas come from a chosen leader. Those who are now living in defiance of the concessions they are asked to make are most likely holding a death grip on what they so blindly grasp in their hands, with no breathing room in those fists for any new viewpoints.

I try to live life with open hands, never gripping any idea with a fist so tight that there is no space for another perspective to sit lightly in my hands. It has taken me years of introspection to get to this point. Humans exist at many, many levels of understanding. My hope is that somehow in my life, I can be of service in opening some closed fists.

As Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.” I’m going to take off my white coat, put down my clipboard and social distance my days away until the number of new COVID-19 cases starts to drop off to a trickle.

Preaching to the Choir

Facebook is the only social media platform on which I participate, unless you count the occasional foray into Pinterest. I spend not-insignificant time every day scrolling through my feed to see what my “friends” have focused on that day. Lately, there’s been a little too much face-to-screen, so I am being more conscious about how much I indulge the impulse.

Over time, I have tailored my Facebook feed to include posts from sources and people I find informative, inspirational, or amusing, as well as those who are close to my heart. I enjoy the thoughts and pictures that my connections put in my feed, especially since I’ve been spending even more time solo than usual. There are many, many posts about COVID-19, including advice, educational videos, cautionary tales, and expressions of frustration about a wide variety of subjects. And now, many are sharing feelings and reporting news about the global unrest. I have often thought as I read these posts (and occasionally actually replied)…

You are preaching to the choir.” I have had that thought a LOT lately.

Think about who sees your posts. Aren’t they almost exclusively folks who think and believe like you do? Isn’t that why they are your Facebook friends? Don’t we “unfriend” people because their opinions are in dire opposition to ours and they irritate the heck out of us? As much we may rant and wail about the ignorant, unconscious behavior so rampantly on display, we can’t kid ourselves that our words and pictures will reach, or have any kind of real impact on, those who most need to hear the message. Even if we could reach those who could benefit from other perspectives, there is no way that I, or anyone I know, can place a post on Facebook that will open up the eyes and alter the irrationally-held beliefs of a fanatic. (There may be a Hogwarts spell for that; I can look into it.)

So, why do we do it?

My interactions on social media give me a place to vent, make me feel seen and heard, and maybe feel a little less alone in the way I see the world. It’s a kind of “Me, too,” in a good way. I find the connections affirming and comforting.

I truly want to be a part of effecting real cultural shift, but I think hangin’ with my Facebook crew, nice as that is, is not going to do much toward that end. Thanks, all the same, my choir, for singing so consistently, colorfully and soulfully.

Do you see social media as an effective tool for creating change? If so, please share your thoughts.

Every day can be a holiday.

Here we are in 2016. The calendar odometer has turned over another digit. What significance does that carry for you, if any?

I find myself at odds with the majority when it comes to holidays, including the arrival of a new year. I used to get involved in the big build-up, the effort and expense, the obligations, and many times, the over-indulgence that accompanies those appointed days. They were always followed by a somewhat “blue” period of let-down and recovery. Somehow–and not consciously at first–I eased away from the extremes and started asking for balance and meaning in all things. Over the last few years, I have been very intentionally studying how to find that meaning and balance.

On my calendar, I don’t have much need for marking certain days as special. Birthdays might be an exception. I like to acknowledge my happiness that certain people ended up on the planet in the same vicinity and time I occupy. (Not that I don’t do that on other days, too.) Birthdays are not imposed upon us the way that contrived holidays are, like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day, even Thanksgiving.

I have come to see every day as filled with the same opportunities to celebrate, give gifts, laugh, eat good food, gather with the best of company and share love, all that might be expected on holidays. Each day also offers the opportunity to grieve, express sorrow for our losses, and honor those who have come and gone, leaving their mark on us. And, my days present the chance to be creative in many ways, including how I make my living.

I do distinguish between holiday celebrations and rituals. I think rituals are valuable, perhaps essential, but they need to be married to a personal intention and meaning behind actions. We can be driven by popular convention or by blindly doing what we’ve always done, or we can look at each approaching day–regardless of what the calendar says–and give it our own particular meaning.

My intentions? To give thanks, to say “you are loved” as much as possible, to help someone in need, to show that I care, to try to make the world a more peaceful and beautiful place…and to do this EVERY day.

Can you spin the everyday commonplace into something extraordinary?