Within the space of a few short weeks, all has changed, changed utterly and will undoubtedly never be the same again. The crisis brought to us by the Covid19 pandemic has taught us all how vulnerable and helpless we are in these exceptional circumstances. Our fragility has been exposed as we realize how little control we actually have over external events.
This naturally has created mass fear, anxiety and angst. These fears have undoubtedly been supplemented and exacerbated with our anger and indignation at how wealthy disaster capitalists have deliberately dithered and disastrously prioritized the needs of capital over the lives of thousands of people, mostly poor and disadvantaged, who have needlessly lost their lives as a result.
However, all crises are also filled with opportunity at both the personal and collective levels. In truth, making peace with our vulnerability is at the very essence of what it means to be human. Most of us tend to build a shield of armour around ourselves which helps delude us into believing that vulnerability is a form weakness to be derided and avoided. However, this flawed logic invariably runs us into difficulty. We come to believe that resilience is measured and expressed in hiding our vulnerabilities and being ‘strong’.
Conversely, however, facing, accepting and embracing our vulnerabilities is arguably a much more courageous thing to do and the measure of true strength. Much of these psycho-social misnomers that we have adopted have been internalized through the centuries long so-called ‘civilization’ process forced upon us through colonization and imperialism. Native and indigenous peoples had always observed ancient traditions that prioritized holistic spiritual and emotional health long before we were ‘modernized’ and ‘individualized’ through the enforced brutalization of imperialism.
Awakening the inner child
At a psychological level, this current crisis has awoken the inner child in us who naturally feels frightened and overwhelmed in these unprecedented circumstances. But coming to terms with the realization that we all have a vulnerable inner child within us is at the core of any inner journey. In fact, most fields of psycho-analysis and psycho-therapy emphasize the importance of getting in touch with and reconciling with the inner child within us. At a certain stage in our development, as we struggle through adolescence, we are often forced to disown and disavow our inner child in order to fit in; to get by and to seek approval from our family and peers in order to find acceptance.
This part of us then becomes split-off and abandoned deep within the recesses of our consciousness and can often reappear during times of inner crises and turmoil such as bereavement or loss where it will scream out to be listened to and heard. Therefore, a key part of personal growth and transformation can be to befriend that inner child. To recognize his or her genuine fears and bring them back into consciousness.
In many ways, this crisis and global pandemic has stoked our collective inner child and is bringing all our worst fears and worries to the surface. The fight or flight response kicks in and adrenaline fuels are behavior and actions.
When our inner child overwhelms us, we obsessively watch the news and relentlessly share the darkest and saddest tales with all in our network. We talk about it constantly and catastrophize about all the worst potential outcomes. This way the story of the virus consumes us, effectively taking us over to our detriment and accentuating the anxiety all around us.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we can also attempt to detach ourselves completely from the horror of what is going down by playing it down, avoiding all news and deluding ourselves with false hope that this will soon pass. Like its mirror opposite, this is a clever yet flawed survival technique that attempts to protect us through denial. The problem with this strategy is that it will make deep change and the traumatic realities of this time much harder to bear.
A more balanced and nuanced middle way would perhaps be to encourage our full contribution in the more limited version of our lives as it unfolds before us.
To face the truth of what’s happening and meet our fears, emotions and vulnerabilities head on. To recognize and respect their legitimacy and accept things precisely as they are. To follow the news when relevant and make much more time to avoid it and take pleasure in whatever we possibly can, including through our solidarity actions which challenge its worst excesses.
This allows us to give recognition to the perennial impermanence of life which has been foisted upon us with an acute and abrupt intensity in these strange times. By taking full advantage of the many personal and family benefits of lockdown that has involuntarily obliged us to remember what we should never have forgotten; that we need to slow down.
We are not our work
Change is always difficult though. Many of us, including community activists, have struggled deeply with the loss of our work identities created by this crisis. This is because we can easily become lost in our work and activist identity and the various roles we attach to it.
The realization that this ‘work’ isn’t as important or essential as we perhaps thought can be terribly difficult. It can mean a loss of status and loss of self.
When we draw our sense of self exclusively from our work, we allow it to define our very existence. The realization that this ‘work’ isn’t as important or essential as we perhaps thought can be terribly difficult.
It can mean a loss of status and loss of self. Paradoxically, this crisis, has given us all a precious gift to review and reflect upon. To realize that work is something we engage in and must give our time to in order to survive. We are not, never have been and never will be our jobs and activism. We can and should, where possible, seek satisfaction, a sense of purpose and fulfillment from our jobs but should always avoid being defined by them.
West Belfast: ‘a safe place’ for activism and action
In my own area of West Belfast, we responded immediately in the only way we know how: decisive action. Organizing a collective community is our go-to position after years of conflict, enforced trauma and struggle.
In many ways, it is our ‘safe place’ that we all we know because of our deep, historic experience of exclusion which triggered our philosophy of self-help which became our very means of survival. Ultimately, this is a worthwhile force for positive action which brings people together and fosters solidarity and connection in times of intense peril. But it also has it’s pitfalls, especially when its fuelled by nervous energy, fear, suffering and anxiety which can often make the ‘call to action’ all the more manic.
This can quickly become all-encompassing, overwhelming and completely saturate the ‘self’ to an extent that is harmful and potentially damaging to the process of community organizing and individual self-care.
Instead, we could perhaps be encouraged to look after ourselves and those in our immediate families as a foremost priority in these crazy times. This will arguably imbue our collective solidarity endeavors with a deeper and more humane quality that can be sustained in the longer term. Our local solidarity and collective indignation at those in authority has been expressed through our local community response, ‘Ar Scáth a Chéile’ (borrowed from the ancient Irish proverb, ‘we all exist in each other’s shadow’). Our brilliant Facebook page has already engaged thousands by embedding and recasting our own unique vision of self-help and co-operation that strikes at the very core of who we are.
For Irish people, the crucial importance of the ancient ‘clans’ in our collective psyche cannot be overstated.
This is one of the reasons that the horror stories of cancelled wakes and funerals are so frightening and alien to us. Our distinctive approach to death and dying is being removed from us against our will and this fosters a deep trauma that harks back to wholesale devastation of the Great Hunger period which left an indelible mark of socio-cultural catastrophe from which we have never fully recovered.
Despite this, the weeks and months ahead will be marked with innovation and creativity as we attempt to build an alternative society based on the very best of our core values and skills. The ancient Greeks defined happiness as the ‘exercise of vital powers along the lines of excellence in a life affording them scope’.
In our community, the explosion of community solidarity and new found community cohesion has been exemplified in the emergence of activities such as food parcel deliveries for the elderly, street by street social distancing ‘bingo’, community children’s competitions, online music concerts and much more. The distinctive limitations of the pandemic have reignited the iconic collectivism forged during the conflict where we suffered British military occupation and oppression.
During this period of hardship, our communities have responded with resilience and ingenuity by standing together against the odds. These activities, which are simplistic and practical, have functioned as escapist bond-bearers and acts of resistance that have given people hope and solace through connectivity with others.