23 feb Negotiating With Yourself During the Corona Pandemic
Negotiating With Yourself During the Corona Pandemic
It is exhausting having to constantly make seemingly insignificant day-to-day decisions that no matter how small could still have serious consequences.
Walking On Ice
Many years ago I was walking on a huge frozen lake in Sweden. I didn’t know how long the ice had covered the lake, so I slowly tiptoed on the ice, close enough to the shore to be able to, hopefully, make it onto dry land should the ice break. I was acutely aware of almost holding my breath with every footstep, a mixture of fear and excitement making me tread ever so carefully. Then I heard a humming sound growing steadily louder erupting in a vision of a car racing along right, smack, in the middle of the lake. That made the gingerly picking my way along the edge of the lake seem silly and overly cautious and I laughed out loud at myself and picked up my pace, walking with renewed confidence. As I got closer to a small bridge stretching across a narrow part of the lake, I suddenly felt the ice grow soft and stopped hard. Right ahead of me there was an open bit of water, presumably because some kind of pipe let out warm water. I carefully backtracked and scrambled as fast as I could onto the shore, my newly found confidence evaporating fast.
“…a mixture of fear and excitement making me tread ever so carefully”
A Seesaw of Decision-making
I find that negotiating with oneself about how to stay safe and how to keep others safe while still making one’s everyday life rattle on in a tolerable way during the Corona-pandemic is a bit like my experience on the frozen Swedish lake. It is a constant seesaw motion of at one moment relaxing a bit into thinking that we will probably be all right, and then the next moment we are made aware of the horrible consequences an infection can have – and the stark reality of the situation hits us. Again. And then we need to help a friend in need but have to bend the rules to do so – and once more we find ourselves in the wild seesaw motion. Making painstaking guidelines for ourselves to navigate by will only last us part of the way. Just until someone pleads to be let out of the house to meet friends or we discover how devastatingly lonely someone else is.
“Making painstaking guidelines for ourselves to navigate by will only last us part of the way”
We are challenged by so many things. Our fear of falling ill ourselves, or that it happens to those we care about, to be sure. But also the sheer question of how to ‘do the right thing’ by other members of our communities, puts our ethics and morals to the test on a daily basis. The endless conversations with others, weighing the pro’s and con’s, simply drain us of energy. There are so many different ‘voices’ in our heads – which does not make negotiating any easier. Because however much we try to do right by others, however much we try to protect ourselves and our loved ones, the unpredictability of this pandemic combined with the enormous amount of information we are inundated with, makes it hard to navigate and invariably disrupts our carefully laid plans.
“…puts our ethics and morals to the test on a daily basis”
Practice Makes Perfect?
By now, after almost a year of living with the virus we ought to be experienced in navigating a work- and social life that is completely fluid and can change with a moment’s notice. But we are not. We are just tired and fed up and drained of energy. The constant negotiating with ourselves and others about how to proceed is tough, and it is beginning to really take its toll. We are not used to this level and scale of unpredictability, so we try to reason our way through the maze of real or imagined dangers connected to the pandemic. It is slowly dawning on us that we simply cannot think or talk our way to the right result. Instead we are forced to have endless conversations with ourselves and others about how to find the right balance between staying safe and living a meaningful life.
“It is slowly dawning on us that we simply cannot think or talk our way to the right result”
A Lose-Lose Game
Negotiating with ourselves about what to do is a necessary part of any decision-making process and it can be quite exciting as well as frustrating. But with the Corona virus and the radical changes it has brought, it seems as if these negotiations with ourselves are not a creative exploration of possible solutions but rather feels like hitting one’s head against one wall, turning around and hitting it against another, thoughts and feelings going round and round inside a very small confined space. We can’t ‘think out of the box’ to any major degree because ‘out there’, infection flies around and the unseen and unknown consequences of our actions loom.
“…thoughts and feelings going round and round inside a very small confined space”
No Simple Right or Wrong
I think we must allow ourselves and not least others to make mistakes and to forgive whoever happens to act in a way we ourselves deem ‘irresponsible’. I am not talking about those who willfully ignore all recommendations and carry on as if the virus has nothing to do with them but rather about all those who try to do their best, but who will probably also make a wrong risk assessment from time to time. We are much wiser now than we were a year ago, when the lockdown first sprang into effect, but this still does not make us agree on a clear way forward, and so disagreement about how to behave has become a constant feature in many relationships. As in so many negotiations, there is not always an objective right or wrong, so we need to be as understanding of each other as we possibly can – even if this demands a surplus of energy that we do not necessarily have.
“…there is not always an objective right or wrong, so we need to be as understanding of each other as we possibly can”
It might be helpful if we insert a sentence into our inner, ongoing conversations with ourselves: ‘Will everything be better, if I keep debating the pro’s and con’s? No? All right then, I will do my best, and even though that might not be enough, that is all I can do’. It is kind to try to do the right thing by others, but it is also a kindness to oneself to accept that all one can do is try one’s best. There are no guarantees. I bet others find it just as hard. So be kind to them as well.