August 1, 2020: Reframe the Conversations, Reset the Thoughts, Emotions, and Behaviors?
Note: This is a copy of an article I recently wrote for another website, with corrections for grammar and a couple of short additions. Some of it reflects previous notions from my site.
As many have noted, COVID-19 is the latest of a triad of pandemics now very much at a conscious level: the virus itself, racism, and poverty. However, what is churning at the conscious level still has not amounted to a civil agreement. And that lack of civil agreement did not just begin within the last year. Any chance at a meaningful agreement not limited to writings and laws and not much practiced in ongoing behaviors, is lost in a conversation involving very disparate perceptions. Fright, flight, and fight are a readily available innate trigger, but thinking-feeling beyond that innate trigger, takes practice. That practice is also an innate attribute.
As has also been noted, terms used to describe COVID-19 like pre-symptomatic, asymptomatic, and symptomatic are applicable to the terms racism and poverty as well. But again, disagreement about what the terms really mean and their impact on individuals and groups, also keeps us from forming any useful civil agreement necessary for abating the pandemic triad. And it seems fairly certain the lack of a civil agreement between folks in America is seen by some as an opportunity to exploit for personal and political gain.
COVID-19: It’s here, but its weight has not created a civil agreement. For instance, calls to wear a mask, keep at least a six-foot physical distance from others, gather in groups of no more than ten—and outside at that—evoke calls of government overreach and have been taken as an infringement on basic human rights like independence. However, notions of independence and dependence do not work in isolation, but are a normal paradox of living. Choosing sides of a paradox creates a polarization when what is really needed is transcendence. The good news is transcendence does not require erasing history, but rather going beyond where we have been.
Racism: Perhaps a term narrowly focused on a facet of the broader dehumanization of us. Sometimes it takes a thousand words to see the picture. Raymond Cattell proposed two traits (among others) that may help: surface and source traits. We cannot directly observe source traits, but we infer them from a cluster of surface traits. The term “infer” is critical—it’s a construction based on selective attention (often driven by previously formed associations/experiences). If we understand a new term, say “surface-ism” as a heuristic sometimes appropriate, but never in terms of dehumanization, perhaps resentment about feeling excluded and vilified via the term racism will abate. Again, we’re adding to both the lexicon and perception as opposed to assaulting the concerns of others who can then think in terms of being nullified instead of being included.
Poverty: Some still believe in the just-world paradigm—people get what they deserve (certainly the importance of secrets tends to be touted in this paradigm). Exploiters love such opportunities—they take what they can and leverage the power because they assume the right of ascension. Perhaps if we forget economic and political terminology and go with establishing a basic floor of thriving, we’ll have arguments about what defines that floor as opposed to starting with who deserves what. There will always be a one percent—focusing on them is misleading. There will always be folks who don’t want to do much of anything—focusing on them is misleading. Bookend conversations tend to ignore all of the data and folks in the middle. Starting a conversation with thoughts about winners and losers only perpetuates the construction of a hierarchy of deserving.
It is not just political, economic, religious, racial, etc. concerns in which we construct contrasts between one thing/person and another, our very biology does it. There is no color reddish-green for humans because they work as paired opposites—one or the other is heightened or contrasted because the other is inhibited. We work that way both on a macro and micro level. Asking people to stop comparing, contrasting, and categorizing is ludicrous—sort of like trying to teach a bird to press a button with its wing. Perhaps a conversation about tool usefulness is appropriate. A brain/mind that only works in compare, contrast, and categorize mode is enslaved by a tool, instead of using the tool proficiently. It is one thing to use compare, contrast, and categorize in seeking a goodness-of-fit for jobs, friends, mates, etc., but is wholly inappropriate for constructing a hierarchy of who’s human and who isn’t. No one is a child of a lesser god.
In this pandemic triad we are all affected, no matter who is pre-symptomatic, asymptomatic, or symptomatic. However, we do know that some individuals or groups are particularly vulnerable to any one or combination of the three. While it is true that all lives matter, it seems obvious that vulnerable individuals and groups require a heightened level of attention and care.
Eventually, we will have a vaccine/procedure for COVID-19. But viruses evolve as do racism and poverty. The notion of a singular solution is magical thinking/feeling. Being alive means being dynamic and includes a need to recognize a dynamic awareness and attention. As I recently heard, we are all in the same boat, but we are not all in the same kinds of cabins and we do not all have the same kinds of access to amenities. We are not all affected in the same manner, but we are all affected. Forming a civil agreement that seeks inclusion and does not dehumanize anyone may be a key starting point. Such a dialogue and resultant behavioral change are well within our scope of capabilities. After all, civil disobedience is not the same as civil war and a civil agreement is not the same as submission.
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