We’re getting a lot of opportunity right now to notice how we show up with fear.
We’re getting to see how we, ourselves, show up when we’re afraid. One good way to check this is go and review your last twenty or so posts on social media, and then sit in the possibility that this what it looks like when you’re afraid. I’m not saying that you are afraid, and that your last twenty posts are purely fear-based. I’m just inviting you to consider that possibility for a moment, and check it out, rather than arguing about whether it’s right or not.
We’re also getting to see how we show up around other people’s fear. What it looks like when we respond to their fear.
This virus has two components to it: a genetic component, and a memetic component. The genetic component is the part that infects and is transmitted via our respiratory droplets. That’s the part that we can protect ourselves from, somewhat, by doing things like washing our hands, social separation, and buying all of the toilet paper in the universe.
The memetic part of the virus is transmitted through our fear. It’s far more infectious, and it is transmitted through any form of contact we have with each other, including virtual contact. Fear is infectious and it is insidious. It’s like thin tendrils of smoke coming in under a door. Panic buying is a great example of how this memetic aspect of the virus works. We see people in long lines at the grocery store. We hear that various items are growing scarce, and when we finally do get into the grocery store, we see the shelves are empty.
And what does this compel you to do? TO BUY ALL OF THE TOILET PAPER!
Buying all of the toilet paper is not rational, but neither is fear.
Fear is highly infectious, because it doesn’t simply travel along physical pathways — it travels, and is communicated, along any pathway of communication. If we think of fear as a form of virus, then its vectors for transmission are any way in which one human connects with another. That includes eye-contact, your facial expression seen across the room from each other, what you post on social media, what is broadcast on the media, and so on.
One of the ways you could practice protecting yourself from the memetic parts of the virus would be to isolate yourself completely from all other human contact. That way, you wouldn’t be putting yourself at risk of running into someone else’s fear, and so you would only need to manage your own.
This would work to some extent, but then you would be left on your own to manage your own fear, and if the end result is that you live in a bunker by yourself for the rest of your life, fear has kind of already had its way with you.
The solution to a novel virus like COVID19 is generally that we need to build up an immunity to it. This will happen naturally as humans come into contact with it. What we’re mostly trying to do is manage the impact of that inevitability. If we all just got sick at once, we would rapidly develop an immunity, but it would come at a huge cost to our systems, which aren’t designed to handle such a massive onset at once. That approach would also sweep away a lot of people that, for whatever reasons, are less able to adapt and develop an immunity on their own. If we practice slowing COVID’s spread, while accepting that it will spread, then we can turn a rushing onslaught into a manageable current, and adapt at a more manageable pace.
An alternative approach someone could take would be to simply isolate themselves from the rest of humanity, thereby, in theory, eliminating their risk of getting sick. But, the moment they try to step back into humanity, it doesn’t really matter how much time has passed — they’ve not really had any opportunity to be with the new virus, and so they will be back at square one, albeit perhaps with a slightly better adapted health care system to manage their own illness (and now we’re back where we started anyhow).
This is ultimately the same approach that you’re trying to take with any of the stuff in life you are not currently able to be with (just to make sure this is clear, COVID19 is currently something we, including our immune systems, are not able to be with). Anger, sadness, rage, resentment, fear, frustration, contempt, joy, success, your own worth, how other people show up, and even death — these are all things that we have varying capacities to be with. Some you’ll be very good at being with. Others, you will have almost no capacity to be with. This is your humanity.
For the most part, we try to isolate ourselves from these things, thinking that that will somehow resolve them for us. We try to get jobs that allow us to avoid being with those things, we choose friends and a romantic partner that let us avoid these things. We try to life- and biohack in ways that allow us to do an end-run around the things we don’t want to be with, so that we can have all of the trappings of a great life, without really having to be with the parts we are currently labeling as “not so great” or “extremely shitty”.
And, just like putting yourself into a bunker and coming out in five years time, when you isolate yourself from the parts of life you can’t be with, it turns out they’re still waiting for you whenever it is you come out. As a result, our experience tends to be like opening your front door and immediately getting clubbed in the head. The impact is fast and blindsiding, and it tends to reinforce our previous pattern to stay inside and isolate from it.
This virus, and our collective response to it, are a powerful medicine for each of us.
What are you learning from COVID19?