“Egotism is that certain something that enables a man in a rut, to think he is in the groove.” – Author Unknown
If you find yourself here and have skipped the Introduction, I implore you to go back and read it. It is not full of flowering generalities, but rather it is vital in setting the intention and creating the space for the rest of this book.
It’s been said that crises bring out the worst in people. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that crises just amplify one’s existing personalities. By definition, crises are stressful situations; however, they don’t create new personalities in people. They make everyone more of what they already are. During the pandemic, people became louder, larger, and more animated than they were previously.
We saw this in the testing of relationships. Quarantine caused people to be in closer contact with each other. This did create new strain in relationships; however, the pandemic didn’t cause divorce. Odds are there was underlying discord that was already brewing prior to the pandemic. The pandemic just amplified it and catalyzed the inevitable divorce. This was also seen in domestic violence. Lots of shelters were closed or were operating under reduced capacity. Victims were locked in with their abusers. The quarantine amplified the abuse, leading some victims to finally escape their situation. They may not have left if it weren’t for the quarantine and being pushed to a bottom that they could no longer endure.
We also saw this amplification of personalities in political debates. The pandemic did not cause people to change their values and beliefs, instead it caused people to harden their existing beliefs. Those who thought the media was an establishment of the Democratic Party were adamant in voicing their opinion that the media was conspiring to shut down the country to prevent the incumbent president from being re-elected.
Some people went as far as protesting government-imposed shutdowns and rallied at state capitol buildings with guns. Now I understand that it’s human nature to dismiss an imminent threat if it cannot be seen, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war against the virus was separate from the issue of the second amendment. Some people didn’t see the distinction that the virus was a metaphorical war, not a literal war.
The protesters of the shutdown also argued that the government didn’t have the authority to grind the economy to a screeching halt, to mandate that private citizens must stay in their homes, or to track citizen’s obedience of the shutdown orders via cellphone data. The abruptly mandated quarantine orders, coupled with the economic shutdown, fueled existing tensions in political parties. People’s self-image and tribalism was steeled in order to survive the hardships that came while living through the pandemic.
Some made the argument that the virus only affects the elderly and they are going to die soon anyways. Survival of the fittest, right? What an ugly sentiment! Ironically, a subpopulation of the people prematurely declaring elderly as “deceased”, also congregated in churches. Religion should not be mingled within the ugly confines of ageism. In the same vein, the lack of medical equipment and hospital capacity were forcing healthcare professionals to make impossible decisions about who lived and who didn’t. If there were two 35 year olds and a 90 year old who needed ventilators, but there was only one ventilator left, who got the ventilator? One of the two 35 year olds? Which one? These ageist dilemmas illustrated the difficult moral decisions that had to be made during the pandemic. They also highlighted the reflexive need to evaluate the meaning, role, and value that old age had in our society.
People who were slightly creative before the pandemic were adjusting to the new way of life brought on by the pandemic. Business owners pivoted their products to align with their customer’s needs. This was seen with alcohol distilleries making hand sanitizer and textile manufacturers making cloth masks. Healthcare workers worked overtime with inadequate protection. They even made short dance videos on social media platforms to thank people for staying home and stopping the spread of the virus so their hospitals didn’t exceed capacity. They went the extra mile despite being in an already difficult situation.
On the other hand, some people invoked the seemingly national trait of stoicism. That is, extreme endurance through difficult times. Messages of strength and resilience were legitimized through mainstream media. Local TV stations ran campaign ads saying things like “Baltimore Strong”, “We Are Buffalo Strong”, and “We Are New York Tough”. Were these messages simply a thinly veiled coping mechanism, or did people actually believe what they were saying? With all of the suffering during the pandemic, were these messages of toxic positivity, that when embraced, prevented us from experiencing the entire spectrum of human emotions? In the midst of people doubling down on their beliefs, this was a true litmus test of their authenticity.
People became more convicted of their perceptions of truth and reality. People who were unwilling to be open-minded before the pandemic, were now only surrounding themselves with like-minded people. The partisan divide was widened via online echo-chambers where users succumbed to confirmation bias. Social media algorithms kept pointing users towards posts that shared similarities between previous posts that they interacted with. This was a physical manifestation of the notion that man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.
It became highly apparent which tribe someone belonged to based on what beliefs they clung to. Someone who was largely abrasive and argumentative in their expression of anti-immigration and pro-gun rights must belong to the right. Someone who vocalized any dissension to the aforementioned opinions must belong to the left. The polarity was distinct and starkly visible.
If someone’s tribe was known, their arguments could be anticipated. It is a sad day in America when our individuality is so blurred that we cannot determine who someone is. When so much life force is siphoned out of someone, they attach their identity to the communal opinion. We must focus on what is right, instead of who is right.
Technology made it easy for people to strengthen their perception of reality. When extreme views become the norm, it becomes even more challenging to counter these norms. Understandably some people were acting out of pain and generally resisted change. People grew increasingly polarized in an effort to harden themselves against the unknowns that laid ahead. I believe people are good at heart. Condemn the actions, not the person.
You can learn a lot about someone’s character and values by how they react in a crisis. Are they focused and contributing to the solution, or are they spiraling out of control and feeding the problem? Are they reacting from a clear and focused mind, or are they being driven by their emotions? Some people really stepped up and supported local food banks, sewed masks, and helped their neighbors. Some people went into panic shopper mode and hoarded all of the toilet paper, bread, and milk at the local grocery store. This was the scarcity principle in action. When people saw empty shelves of toilet paper, they perceived the product to be scarce, and therefore desired it more. Even though there was plenty of supply back in warehouses, the illusion of scarcity led to a surge in demand. Lastly, some business owners drastically increased their prices and took advantage of the consumer demand.
It became evident that goodness got pulled out of some, while others contracted into themselves and caused harm. A crisis of this scale, one that’s simultaneously impacting the entire globe, illuminated the values of world leaders. Some leaders demonstrated courageous strength and leadership, while others reaffirmed their loyalty to a divisive, non-scientific agenda.
Conspiracy theories, by definition, are not proven facts. They are theories that attempt to explain an event by using circular reasoning: evidence that doesn’t exist, and evidence that is against the theory, are referenced as proof of the theory. America’s top doctors, hydroxychloroquine, the mainstream news media, foreign countries, and political leaders were all subjects of conspiracy theories relating to the coronavirus pandemic. The followers of these theories appeared to be growing in number, but it is more likely that those who held these beliefs were just more vocal.
People that believe these theories would rather believe a lie that gives them a false sense of certainty, rather than subscribe to a truth that may unravel the certainty in their lives. It’s a form of a coping mechanism. Beliefs are thoughts that are true to an individual, and are usually acquired through one’s interpretation of past experiences.
Our beliefs create the world we experience. The world then reinforces what we believe. Nobody can change their mind by trying to change their mind. Nobody can get rid of a thought, by using a thought. It’s much easier to cling to beliefs that we already have, rather than challenge those we currently hold.
People try to spread beliefs because the ego is driving them to make others believe the things they believe. In the case of conspiracy theories, the pain body, that is the part of the ego addicted to negativity and unhappiness, is running the show. Those who subscribe to these theories are doing so from a place of pain and uncertainty.
When people know better, they do better. For we are not our thoughts, we are our awareness of our thoughts. People can only act within their level of consciousness; therefore, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Unconsciously subscribing to an egoic pain body helped some cope during these uncertain times.
The year 2020 was the year of living our truths. We were all collectively called to pick a side and stand up for what we believe in. But knowing what you believe is not enough, for truth in the mind does not equate to truth in the soul. Truth in the soul has the power to move us to the streets and effectuate real change. In the time of pandemic, when everything as we knew it was turned on its head, we were forced to rethink what truly mattered. We must live authentically and honestly if we are to live at all.
“The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” – Erich Fromm