True Positivity Is Not Naïve

Genuine optimism isn’t about acting like everything is wonderful, it’s about believing there are answers and believing we will find them.

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Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

There’s good news and there’s bad news and there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is our attitude towards life is ours to choose. The bad news is our attitude towards life is ours to choose. The good news is our attitude shapes our perception of the world in a way which will reinforce and perpetuate that same attitude. The bad news is our attitude shapes our perception of the world in a way which will reinforce and perpetuate that same attitude.

The pandemic has become a source for countless different struggles around the globe. The most intense are those being fought in the front-line medical spaces which are either being swamped or are bracing for it. While for the vast majority of us the best thing we can do to aide in those struggles is to stay home and prevent further infections by refusing to be carriers for the virus that also then locks us into intense internal struggles with the two most difficult of mental and emotional enemies, uncertainty and helplessness.

Nothing sparks our anxieties more than uncertainty, as the 2016 study published by the Institute of Neurology at NCL in the UK illustrated uncertainty has a more negative impact on our mental state than the certainty something bad is going to occur. There are so many things about our current situation and our impending future we simply don’t know at this point that uncertainty has become one of our dominant mental states. Add to that the powerlessness generated by our social media feeds showing us events and struggles from all over the world which we feel for but are unable to do anything about and it becomes a perfect storm for extreme emotional and psychological stress.

Maintaining a sense of hope and optimism is one of the most important weapons in attempting to fight the kind of terrified hopelessness circumstances like the ones we are facing can engender. But fostering that sense of optimism is not simply a case of ‘turning your frown upside down’. The decision to make an optimistic attitude your goal is firstly a matter of personal choice but pursuing and achieving it can be a constant and fluctuating challenge.

Focusing our attention on positive stories and postings, reframing our attentions to see ‘silver linings’ in every situation, seeking and encouraging humor and distraction, these are all effective tools in the quest to maintain a positive or optimistic outlook but they are not the sum total of it. And they often get misconstrued as turning a deliberately blind eye to anything negative or unpleasant.

Genuine, helpful, healthy optimism isn’t simply an act of pretending everything is wonderful. It is about facing the difficulties, pains, and dangers in life, acknowledging they are there, and maintaining a belief both that there are solutions to every problem and that we have the capacity to find them.

So how do we look at this global crisis upending the norms of daily life for everyone on the planet with some sense of grounded optimism? How do we plant our feet in positive belief in the face of so much uncertainty and the temptation for helplessness and hopelessness? By choosing the way we look at the situation rather than letting outside forces dictate our perceptions for us.

There Already Are Answers

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Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

In the midst of all the daunting and sensational reporting about the casualties, breakdowns, and failed responses there is also clear and increasingly abundant evidence of successful solutions.

China was the first to suffer massive outbreak of the virus but they instituted targeted and aggressive measures, were able to force infection rates to an inflection point, and now their numbers of home-grown cases have plummeted to the point they have been able to close their emergency constructed facilities and send their experienced medical personal to aide other countries in need.

As illustrated in the Italian town of Vo, locations which have been able to test aggressively and extensively then isolate all who are infected, including those who are asymptomatic, have been able to halt the spread of the virus completely. While this would be difficult in more massive urban settings it clearly demonstrates that containment is possible.

Those places which institute effective social-distancing measures through mandated shut-downs and ‘stay at home’ orders see an immediate down turn in the statistical increases in infection rates. As in places like Taiwan and South Korea, if those measures are put in place early enough and are followed properly the infection rates remain at levels medical and health care systems are capable of supporting and mortality rates remain lower.

We are only three months into this crisis globally and already the virus has been genetically identified, approximately twenty different vaccines are in development with one already being tested, potential medicinal treatments based on combinations of already existing and approved medications as well as treatments using antibodies in the blood of people who have recovered from the virus are already showing signs of promise.

In the face of immediate economic impact governments all over the world are swiftly taking steps to assist and support their citizens to both help recuperate their losses but also to enable the distancing and stay-at-home isolation needed to help slow the rates of infection.

In response to shortages in medical and protective equipment individuals and corporations are stepping forward to bolster supplies. Businesses are repurposing their equipment to produce masks and ventilators and schematics for versions of the same items are being circulated to businesses and individuals with 3D printers, who are all stepping up to help produce additional supplies.

And in situations where there is a lack of cohesive direction and management at the national level local government at the city, county, and territory level are taking action to protect their citizens and to prepare for anticipated medical needs.

‘It Will Take Time’ Does Not Mean ‘Forever’

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Being able to snap our fingers and make all of this stop, to wake up Monday morning and simply return to the lives we were living only a couple of months ago would be nothing short of a miraculous dream come true. That isn’t going to happen but despite the past week feeling more like three months the current state of our circumstances is not going to last forever.

Looking to the places first hit we can see that the curve does eventually fall, the numbers do eventually drop, and people do recover. They aren’t instantly returning to normal as if nothing had ever happened but they are able to begin restarting their lives and national functioning. And that arc took them around two and a half months. That certainly isn’t nothing and the impacts of such shutdowns will take a long time to sort through but two and a half months isn’t six months or nine months or eighteen months.

It may take twelve to eighteen months for a solid vaccine to be developed but we aren’t going to have to stay quarantined in our homes until that happens. After the first major waves crest we will be able to take steps back out into function life. It may take us several intermediary steps between shutdown and a ‘normal’ we more comfortably recognize but we will get there.

Other parts of the world are already on their way and are reassuring us that the first couple of weeks are the hardest to get through because it is new, unknown, shocking, and confusing. Once the initial surge of uncertainty inspired panic passes we will adapt to our new ‘normal’, it is one of the most astounding capacities we possess as a species.

There Will Be Loss

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Photo by Toimetaja tõlkebüroo on Unsplash

That we will collectively get through this does not mean there won’t be loss. There will be, there already has been tremendous loss and there will be more, both loss of life and loss in economic terms as well. Believing we will get through this in no way minimizes or ignores the tragic, painful, and in many cases devastating losses which are being suffered. Genuine optimism requires acknowledging the losses will happen while also acknowledging that the occurrence of bad does not eradicate the possibility of good.

Fixating on statistics and comparisons can be seductively misleading. That there are other diseases and causes of death which have killed more people than this virus may seem like a reassurance in the face of the virus itself but it has a backhanded side-effect of seeming dismissive of the lives which are being lost. That eighty to ninety percent of the people who encounter this virus will recover from it is a definite good. But that does not diminish the fact that each person who dies from it was someone’s loved one who had plans for next week, next month, next year.

We are all also suffering economic losses both immediate and long term Taking the measures needed in order to try and prevent infection rates from exploding beyond our capacities to care for those who do become seriously, and potentially fatally, ill has had clear and profound impact on people’s ability to support themselves and their families. And the path to recovery will be shaky, take time, and some losses will not be recoverable.

One truly important saving grace on both of these fronts is that there is not a person on the planet who is not being affected by this. The crisis and loss we are facing is not relegated to one small group or location, we are all going through this and as such the need for support and action and aide in recovery is clear, obvious, and universal. We are already seeing the governments of countries all around the world stepping up to help mitigate and recoup loss as well as to aide in recovery.

There Are Things We Can Do

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Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

With a crisis of this scale it is only natural to feel overwhelmed, to feel powerless and helpless when faced with somethings so massive and sweeping. The important thing to remind ourselves of and focus on is that there are things we can do to help, even at our own personal level. Beyond our normal every-day capacity to control what we put out into the world around us emotionally and behaviorally, more specifically when dealing with something infectious like this virus our behavior can have real and measurable impact.

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https://twitter.com/NAChristakis

There are all sorts of images, graphics, and video illustrations depicting the importance and impact of breaking the chain of transmission. We as everyday citizens can have an enormous effect on rates of infection and thus rates of hospitalization in our areas by taking deliberate and specific actions to keep ourselves out of the chain such as staying home, maintaining physical distancing, rigorous hand-washing, and fully quarantining ourselves if we are ill. The battle is not to try and make the virus vanish overnight but to keep the rates of infection from exploding and leading to the overwhelming of healthcare support systems.

And beyond the specifically medical concerns by staying connected with one another, sharing our talents and skills with one another we can help soften the mental and emotional impact of sudden isolation and inactivity. People singing to their neighborhoods from their balconies, leading backyard Zumba classes, artists sharing concerts and performances and reading stories online, we are seeing people all across the globe coming together and supporting one another both because we are all in this together and because it clearly and immediately helps in vital and powerful ways.

We may not be able to fix the entire global crisis but we can each do our small part to impact our part of picture and to help ourselves, and each other, get through this.

-stay home, maintain distance, wash our hands

-limit our media consumption, don’t leave the news on 24/7

-do one productive and active thing per day

-focus on successes and victories rather than litanies of woe and loss

-take it one day at a time

We will get through this. Disruption of life is not the destruction of it. That we don’t know what lies ahead, the story can change dramatically from one day to the next, provokes uncertainty but it also leaves the future open. Things can go sideways, backwards, or leap forwards. We don’t know what is coming next and we should be very wary of anyone claiming to.

We will have to support one another, be patient with one another, and mourn our losses but we will find life and a new normal on the other side of this. It will take some time but we will get there.

Written by

A professional dancer, choreographer, theatre creator, and featured TEDx speaker with an honours degree in psychology, two black belts, and a lap-top.

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