It’s fair to say that the last year and a half have been pretty rubbish for everyone. Whatever your circumstances, you’ll have had some aspect of your life changed and, as is the nature of time, you’ll never be able to get it back. But of course the “rubbishness” of the last year has also been different for different people, some of us will have been seriously ill, some of us will have lost loved ones, some of us will have experienced extreme financial pressures and other will have lost their homes and/or their jobs.
From an intellectual, rational perspective we can make comparative assessments of the impact. It is probably something we can all agree on that losing your life partner is more impactful than having to work from home for a year. From an emotional and psychological perspective though, it is harder to start to make relative assessments of the impact on one person compared to another.
When we go through a collective moment like this, the danger is that we apply that rational assessment to belittle the emotional impact, it manifests itself when we say, “at least you’re healthy and well” or, “well you still have a lot to be grateful for”. By applying our logical assessment of others emotional impact we are effectively negating their reality, we are choosing not to listen to how that person is feeling and instead telling them how they should feel.
There’s a brilliant explanation of this in the wonderful book, “It’s ok that you’re not ok” by Megan Devine which was recommended to me when I was going through my own grief a few years ago. Devine wonderfully articulates the impact of people rationalising away other people’s feelings during bereavement by drawing from their own experience, “you’re still young” and, “you’ll move on eventually”. Our awkwardness or unwillingness to exist in the moment of someone else’s emotions and our desire to fix it with rationality.
Whilst bereavement and the pandemic are at the more extreme end of human experiences, the same thing happens each and every day as we go about our work,
“Everyone’s busy, that’s just how it is”
“Well at least you’ve got a job”
“There’s millions of people without a job”
I’m not, of course, saying that sometimes some relativity and structure can’t help people when they’re distressed, but it starts by taking time to understand what’s going on for them, what’s happening in their life and what support, or help (if any) they need, rather than trying to fix or rationalise their situation for them without their permission.
When there is so much pain, anxiety and fear going on, we can all become a little tired and even desensitised to the world around us – that’s part of our own self protection. But to get out the other side of this, in our homes, workplaces and communities, we’re going to have to start by acknowledging how those that are around us really feel. That’s the work that needs to be done.
If you’ve got three minutes to spare, I’d recommend you take time to watch this.