If the Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated anything to me it is how horrifically incongruent and hypocritical human beings are. I have not met one person whose opinions and behaviours match, and I include myself in this. From the conservative voting Thursday night clappers to the mask wearing refusers who condemn people queuing with less than two metres between them; from the key workers who are regularly expected to and willingly do break all social distancing rules but complain about the too early easing of lockdown, to those who are enjoying the break from work and advocate extending lockdown despite its impact on others’ welfare and ability to make a living. The pandemic has illustrated how selfish we really are. Whether working or not, paid or not, compliant or not, happy or not, everyone I have spoken to is essentially looking out for themselves as a priority.
But why are we so surprised? Maybe this is totally understandable? Maybe we need to stop expecting everyone to have compassionate, altruistic motives at all times? Maybe it is totally unrealistic and always has been? After all, we have not survived as a species because we were altruistic. Maybe altruism or the fantasy of it is a modern phenomena created to make those of us who work in public service more compliant?
So how did we survive?
We survived, and developed due to primeval instincts, adaptive behaviour and a delicate balance of mutual co-existence. These fundamental capabilities enabled us to respond to what was required, when it was required and the evolution of these skills brought us to where we are today. Notice I say evolution. We adapted as we needed to, over time, as a response to conditions that changed in our environment, in ourselves and in our social world.
I fear that today the ever lightning speed with which the modern world is pushing us means we are not now able to adapt, through trial and error, over time, with space to reflect and consider, but are pushed to change for changes’ sake, moving ever more speedily on into unknown territory that is not just not known but not safe, for which we are not equipped. Instead of easing into a new body of water gradually, from the shallows, taking one measured step at a time, we are being thrown off the rocks into deep water we know nothing about. The shock of the temperature, the unknown depth and an often invisible horizon leaves us mentally, emotionally and physically compromised. No wonder we are suffering unprecedented mental health problems, burnout at work. No wonder we are illogical in our response to a pandemic, thrown back into the everyone for themself selfish survival mode.
If we look back at the evolution of the human being we can see that major challenges have always happened: ice ages, global warming, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, floods, plagues, diseases. And we always adapted.
But today our narcissism and greed pushes us as humans to not just adapt but to control and exploit everything that happens. People make money and achieve notoriety for their promotion or denial of the current disaster, as if it is the only one we have ever faced. As a trainee teacher my tutor suggested that “Disaster” was a great topic title; we could look at historical events, or current events, man made or natural disasters. Kids could write imaginative pieces or factual reports. I took the advice and made the most of the recent sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise. I had to laugh when one of my pupils thought the ferry had sunk because it had hit an iceberg, in Zeebrugge harbour. Only now do I see the irony of the name of the ferry; how many avoidable disasters have happened due to human greed in business. The ferry, new to the fleet, had been designed to compete in the market by having faster turn around times than others of its kind. At that time cross channel ferries were big business and there was much competition. How many disasters do we bring on ourselves through the obsessive drive to be rich and powerful? Or to cut corners, to expect the lowest paid members of the team to do the most important jobs, such as closing the doors on the ferry?
As society continues with its quest for ever greater civilisation, it risks destroying itself with the very sophistication it seeks.
In this never ending race to be the richest, most famous, most powerful, we overcomplicate the ways in which we deal with life. We fabricate difficult situations, we argue about everything, we obfuscate to control, keeping essential parts of our human jigsaw in the dark, for fear they see our emperor’s new clothes. And in the contest to be the best we lose sight of the tools we have been developing since we first walked the earth: our ability to reflect naturally, rather than to order; our intuition which has always served us well in times of need; our strength in working together.
Instead everything is managed. It is recorded as data, using faceless and bland technology which can never capture the nuance of human life. We are separated out, boxed up, given grades and numbers, pitted against one another, and told we are crazy if we cannot support our hunches with numbers and evidence. We think we are so clever, so advanced, but when a pandemic hits, not one of us can respond logically. We are just gibbering wrecks of our ancestors. We are no more than robots, hollow machines managed by those who shout loudest. Unless we make a real effort to resurrect the human capabilities that have kept us alive since forever, our time on earth is limited. Our minds have been so managed by media and politics, that we don’t even know what or how to think anymore.
So please, if you have a hunch, a feeling, you know deep inside that something is right or wrong, don’t listen to those who ask for the data. Shout it out. Remember that we survived and thrived through honest communication, through natural and iterative reflection, through intuition, and collaboration, and do all you can, push with all your might, to reinstate these to your workplace. If we start living as authentic, congruent human beings, not only will we feel better about ourselves, but we will learn to trust others who live the same way. It’s not too late. We still have time for the congruent to inherit the earth. But they can’t do it without us.