At first I was unconcerned about the pandemic. I am somewhat ashamed to say I felt a little like Donald Trump – people were over reacting; it’s a flu; old people die anyway; most people recover etc, etc. And then I finally understood the concern about exponential growth and overwhelming the medical system. Flattening the curve became a mantra for most western countries and in one week the situation in my own province began to show the growth of cases that the authorities most feared.
In one amazing week in the middle of March, the jurisdiction in which I reside – the province of British Columbia, Canada – went from having no restrictions, to bans on groups of 250, then 50, then 5 and finally close to a complete lock-down. Overnight libraries, gyms, restaurants, theatres, golf courses, cinemas, museums and most places of work closed. We were instructed to distance by two meters from anyone who was not in our immediate family.
I felt fine with complying with the new rules. Ensuring the health system did not implode seemed essential. I developed my personal plan of wellbeing:
1) I would reach out to someone electronically every day.
2) I would maintain my morning practice of meditation and journaling.
3) I would either walk or bike ride every day.
4) I would allow myself a glass or wine (or two) each evening.
5) I would try not to overeat but permit myself a treat of some kind each day.
6) I would choose something to make me laugh each evening – the old British comedy series Blackadder, The Good Place on Netflix and more recently the series Schitt’s Creek.
My strategy worked well. For the first time ever, I spoke to my five siblings in the same week. The weather became gorgeous spring sunshine, which was great for biking and walking. The cherry blossoms emerged and for three weeks I gazed at these two magical cherry trees that stayed in full glorious pink snow bloom. I occasionally met a friend for a socially distanced walk or beer. Much of my life did not change, although I had to cancel a conference I was arranging in Assisi, with all the work of unmaking the event I had laboriously slaved over for two years.
Then about a week ago something began to shift. There seemed no sign of a plan for the future. We kept getting informed that the curve was flattened, we had lots of room in the hospitals (4400 unused beds), we were getting fewer cases each day yet there was no suggestion of any increased freedoms. My frustration began to increase. We seemed stuck in a permanent Ground Hog Day. There were rumours that there could be no change until a vaccine was found and that could be eighteen months. Suddenly my respect for the authorities began to evaporate. I no longer trusted the people in charge.
Then my perspective began to deteriorate. I realized how easily this virus had caused us to shift from a democracy to a totalitarian state. I began to read contrasting opinions written by eminent writers and professors. The data was not simple to interpret.
I had some challenging debates with friends who seemed more vulnerable and fearful than I was. I realized that if the authorities could keep us fearful, they could maintain control. I began to begrudge my loss of personal freedoms. I wondered of the lack of forward planning was also due to fear – fear of the consequences of letting people get sick.
I got heated, opinionated and almost desperate to get some agreement. A friend of mine asked when I had become the world’s expert on the corona virus. That silenced me and caused me to go deeper.
There is a great psychological truism that a thing is never about what it seems to be about. So when I asked myself what this was really about I realized that the current environment had tapped into a lifelong complex around my relationship with authority. When I was a child, my relationship with my Father was fine until I began to develop beliefs about religion that differed from his. So began my pattern of compliance to authority shifting into rebellion when I no longer respected that authority. Fear could keep me compliant for a while, but eventually the fear would dissipate. The same process repeated itself at boarding school. I began as a compliant, fearful, wellbehaved child until disrespect for the rules caused insurrection. (Eventually I got caught recklessly breaking curfew to go to a local fair and was rusticated – sent home for the rest of term.)
This pattern stayed with me for my working career. Once my respect for the authority figure dissipated, I could and would get myself in big trouble, including one case of “You’re fired, get out of my office!” This only really ceased when I became the boss, and I was the authority figure. Fortunately, with one exception, none of the people who worked for me had the same complex.
Questioning of authority, in itself, is not bad. However, reacting like a petulant, angry, aggressive child becomes inappropriate. I think circumstances saved me from myself, as for almost twenty years I worked alone. I like to think I also grew up, but the Covid-19 virus has become a reminder of how easily old patterns can reinstitute themselves and history replays in a new context.
Exploring this has given me a sense of peace, yet also encouraged me to follow an adult enquiry about my perspective on authority and whether it is valid. The jury is out, but when I apologized to the friend with whom I had become somewhat heated, he responded, “I think we both agree that it is all about transitioning back to a fully operating economy as quickly as possible without overwhelming the health care system in the short to medium term. Are our leaders completely clueless or are they up to the task? Time will tell…at least in part, given that there will continue to be many unknown, unknowns”
I think I can live with that. At least for now. Already antibody tests are suggesting a much higher degree of cases than believed and a much lower death rate.