Peer Leader Letters #7

Here in Ontario we are locked down again so I thought I would examine the things I most miss in my day to day life before going on to explore our self-narratives. But I’m also pausing because I sense that our Self Confidence, Self Esteem, and Self Concept narratives are likely themselves effected as well.

There are three things I most miss. In no particular order they are:

#1 Travel

#2 Mixing with people, both directly and indirectly

#3 Diverse narratives at the ‘systems’ level of society

When you mix not being able to travel around freely, with not being able to mix freely with others, and add being bombarded by a singular narrative daily, together the three create a general sense of restraint and ‘oppression’, which is made contagious itself and then magnified by our innate fear of loss. These feelings of restraint/oppression and loss are then reinforced daily by the repeating circumstances of the actual lockdown.

And this reinforcing loop creates a sense of lethargy, of not wanting to do anything, and in fact fearing ‘not wanting to do anything’ after our usual busy lives. This inner malaise can spur occasional periods of manic activity, more often than not only in intent. I’ve stopped counting all the good intentions I’ve failed to act on for the sake of my mental health! Or of course the corresponding opposite reaction of doing absolutely nothing.

So how would having the things I miss address these issues, or make any difference?

The travel I miss is both small scale, like camping locally or local car trips, and large scale like going to completely different environments and immersing oneself in that different locale’s sense of place and presences.

The “mixing with people” I miss is both directly with friends and family outside one’s bubble- bubbles being an unfortunate necessity at present in an interconnected world- and being in a functioning diverse community where you mix indirectly ie less personally, with people on streets, in shopping malls, in theatres, in places of faith, schools, hiking trails…

The real need for this ‘indirect’ mixing as an important element of our mental well being is not to be underestimated because it doesn’t appear to be so intensely personal as that between friends, or with significant others. When it is restrained, or taken away, we are surprised by a sense of being on a desert island where paradoxically there other people moving around but what they’re doing or why is automatically suspect (if we give in to the previously mentioned sense of oppression etc), and expressed in the omnipresent thought “Are they contagious?” in reaction to every cough or sneeze.

Re missing diverse societal narratives– I’m surprised by how draining it feels to have society dominated by singular narratives- in fact the combination of the almost daily assaults on democracy by Trump and his supporters, and the mounting cases and death tolls repeated day after day has combined to bring together the oppressing effects of being in a world war, similar to the feelings I imagine masses of people must have had at times in the past century.

Without noticing it I have come to rely for my mental well-being on a diversity of narratives, and an unspoken and hitherto unrealized pleasure in feeling I belong to a smaller group of people who share my interests, for example, in books, libraries and bookstores- a small world within a larger world that I didn’t understand till now depended on certain aspects of that larger world and its narratives for its own survival.

And I realize now as well that while I may complain, for example, about the decline of books and threats to libraries, I by no means want it legislated that everyone read a book and frequent a library, nor do I want a universal preoccupation with the issue.

By taking away my ability to travel and mix freely with others, and adding the constant irritation of certain repeated messages, the pandemic has surprisingly revealed that each of these superficial restraints is hiding deeper societal issues, such as economic disparity, racial inequality, and powerful capitalist agendas competing with the public good.

And because what I miss is not unique to me, but experienced differently by others, it is not easy to witness that certain people are more vulnerable to covid 19 because of their income level, or where they live, or the colour of their skin, or that certain stories can have a privileged place over others in a corporatized media.

It is increasingly hard not to notice that when you look at the big picture we appear to be fully embarked on major societal shifts in terms of diversity, equity, fairness and inclusion that are causing a great amount of tension and stress. In the long run it may be as important, in terms of people and society’s growth, how we are reacting to this pandemic, as the facts in numbers and the hard-won success of science and human ingenuity in reacting to the pandemic itself.

There is something hard to understand about how interactions in complex systems, like a society ( its ‘facts’ and narratives) and  its citizens, work, either intentionally or unintentionally, to nurture and forward our physical and psychological growth, or retard it- how the needs of the ‘part’ are met or rejected in the complex whole that a society or community is.

But it is another result of this pandemic that neither the achievements of the great, or the randomness of the virus, are themselves acceptable answers to understanding ourselves, our communities, or how we act.

I wonder which came first? An individual, and their generative, constantly proliferating reality of actions that finally coalesced  randomly into a society? Or a presence in life itself, like an idea, that constantly manifests itself in a vast variety of forms, both in nature and our human creativity?

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