The past 16 months have been tough. For some, times are still tough. For too many, their brains are stuck in tough times. Acting like the times are OK, or even better than OK, can change everything.
Back in March 2020, life suddenly went from normal, whatever that was, to apocalyptic. Something we couldn’t see or feel, with no early warning of its approach, could choke us to death. That feeling of something right outside the door waiting to hurt us was legitimately scary.
Most people stayed locked in homes trying to deal with no school, no work and no socializing. Some had to go out to work, traveling through nearly deserted landscapes. The screens that distracted us were too often filled with messages meant to create pessimism and outrage.
In the summer, those screens were filled with images of black men killed in real time. Massive demonstrations, tear gas and smoke filling night skies evoked the unrest of the 1960s.
With an election finally over, with a winner and loser declared, or so we thought, an assault on the very symbol of American democracy shook another of the core perceptions of who Americans are.
Just as scientists brought hope, vaccination skepticism morphed into a blizzard of misinformation that threatens to keep COVID-19 around for years. Pictures of funeral pyres in India portend a bleak future of reoccurring outbreaks.
Public health restrictions created a perfect storm. Locking down was the appropriate response to a real danger. But the actions of lockdown also produced feelings of danger, persecution and helplessness. For some, being grumpy, defensive and angry seemed like a normal response.
At times like these, with feelings like these, the temptation is to look for saviors. Power seekers are especially good at claiming that title. Follow the right strongman, pass enough restrictions, keep everything as it was in the before times.
But actions like those won’t make us less afraid. They are a default to the negative. To act as if everything is a threat creates a vicious circle of pessimism, paranoia and more fear.
Airline travel is an example of that default. Passengers behaving badly are turning some airplanes into battlegrounds. Airlines cannot trust passengers to practice even minimal social etiquette. Some have stopped serving alcohol.
Our default response to the pandemic should be to yes.
Yes, science is real and the vaccine is safe. Yes, the economy will rebound. Yes, we agree more than we don’t. Yes, we all want the same things because we are all human.
Try defaulting to yes. It can only make us all act and feel better.
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