I firmly believe the next stage of evolution for humanity is self-awareness. As the world shuts down because of the Coronavirus and the stakes for taking responsibility for our actions are at a critical high, it is more important than ever that we learn how to communicate and cooperate better. The crucial first step in this is self-awareness.
It is really hard to conceive of how our actions impact others. The pandemic is forcing us to all come to terms with the fact that we come in direct and indirect contact with many, many people in one given day, all of whom will be positively or negatively affected by how we choose to conduct ourselves.
Now the way we behave has a lot to do with the stories we tell ourselves. For example, most of my life I have suffered from a crippling belief that I don’t matter, that I am invisible. This belief more than any others, has shaped who and how I am in the world.
I suspect I developed this particular belief when I was young as a way of protecting myself, a perverse, counter-intuitive ward against vulnerability. If I don’t matter, then it doesn’t matter if I fuck up.
It is only in the last few years that I have had to truly confront this belief, to try and deconstruct it. Part of that deconstructing is having to confront the fact that not only does this belief hurt me, it negatively impacts others as well.
This is a really hard, uncomfortable thing to do.
When I was a teenager I screwed up my first love relationship by kissing someone else. Boyfriend was away for the summer and I ended up hanging out with one of his best friends. Now, the moment we kissed we knew it was wrong. It was a little blip that was so clearly a mistake it didn’t even feel like cheating. Best friend felt differently however, and confessed to boyfriend.
Turns out, boyfriend felt like it was a lot like cheating (it was) and was very hurt. He said he could not trust me anymore and broke up with me. And with his nations, went most of my friends.
I was truly and honestly shocked. I didn’t mean to hurt him. In fact, it never even occurred to me that I could hurt him. I honestly didn’t think I mattered that much to him.
That was my first experience with how my negative belief affected others. If my actions could hurt someone I loved, then it followed that maybe I wasn’t as invisible as I thought. Maybe, just maybe, it mattered what I did in the world.
Responsibility has been a big theme in my life. Taking responsibility for myself, being a citizen of the world are concepts that guide my life, that are part of my moral code and values. I spend a lot of time thinking about it, writing about it, reading about it, and yes, beating myself and others over the head with it.
Confronting how I have inadvertently been living against that code because of a limiting belief in myself is devastating.
Though I’ve been working hard to rewire my brain with a healthier belief system, old habits die hard.
I haven’t really talked about it a lot, but I was diagnosed with MS in early 2018 when I went temporarily blind in one eye. It is a mild case (you know—just a titch of the ol’ multiple sclerosis). Mostly I don’t think about it. Except for the fact that my right hand has been tingling since August like it is permanently asleep it doesn’t really affect me that much. Also, I have been coughing and having trouble breathing for a couple of months now. I am pretty sure it is because of allergies—we had a flood in our house at the beginning of February and have had to rip out all the floors and some of the walls which means my house is constantly dusty.
Though I have been following the news about the pandemic obsessively, though I have been admonishing my children to social distance and trying hard to be as responsible as possible, it never occurred to me that I could either be a carrier or among the immune-compromised. That this dry cough of mine could have an impact on anyone else. It’s just me and my inferior lung capacity. Don’t mind me.
On Tuesday morning, I was going to go into work because that is what I do on Tuesdays. I wasn’t that sick, I told myself. I couldn’t possibly be one of those people they are trying to keep home. I am not that important.
Until my sister not so gently reminded me of all the above and that I should stay the fuck home.
It never once occurred to me to take my own symptoms seriously because I am so used to ignoring myself. Never has this limiting belief been so dangerous.
Don’t worry—I have been working at home all week now and practising as much social distancing as possible. I will not be going into work for the near future. I am not writing this to worry anyone— my health is better than most, despite the above stuff.
But here is my hope: that we take this forced downtime to deepen our relationship with ourselves, to practice courage and compassion and confront some limiting beliefs that are not only impacting ourselves but others. That we do this so we can truly understand and feel how we are all connected to each other (and not just in a viral way) and maybe, maybe come out of this better people ready to remake a better world based on empathy, compassion and a better understanding of how our actions affect others.
Let’s take this time to heal our own wounds so we can apply ourselves to the task of healing the larger ones. Never has there been a better opportunity or reason to do so.