Posts Tagged ‘response to pandemics’

At first, the rise of a pandemic elicits shock, dismay, and denial. We struggle to get our heads around the idea that plagues move about by their own volition, catching rides on their hosts, which are us. After we cross the threshold into the full realization that our ordinary life is about to be interrupted, we settle in for the long ride. We witness suffering and death as the result of the virus.  And then we realize the second order of suffering, the consequences of plague. Not one society throughout history that was visited by plague did not also experience social and economic collapse. Those twins ride together.

After the society mucks about in the middle passages of plague – after humor wears thin, the statistics become numbing, efforts at inspiration feel tired, the preoccupation with health precautions wearisome, the decimation of the workplace fills us with dread – a new wave of emotions and responses emerge.

People become resolved to passivity, to freezing in place, like trapped beasts. Others flee the scene of the crime, often into fantasy, creating all manner of fanciful conspiracy theories to make simple something that is complex. And others give into rage; they give full voice to their frustration with emotional displays and irrational accusation, usually accompanied by threats against those who seem responsible for their suffering. Politicos know how to manipulate these people for their own purposes.

It’s the virus that is responsible. But it’s hard to lash out at a virus.

The middle passages often engender simplistic, either-or thinking among those who are under maximum stress and do not have the wherewithal to hold several complex ideas in their minds at the same time.  Some have said that this territory in the liminal domain is the most threatening to one of our most vital resources: Imagination.

It is often a lack of imagination that dwarfs innovative and creative responses in times of emergency. When imagination is crushed, what is left is dualistic, either-or thinking, and the lining up of this and that on a line across from each other.

Of course, in complex situations the answer is never this or that. But a lack of imagination always makes room for this or that.

What is required most in a moment like this are new waves of visionary imagination. This imagination does not downplay suffering, minimize loss or threat, or attribute blame through fanciful conspiracies. The rebirth of imagination looks to the future for answers. Morphing and reshaping ways of living that move toward that new vision. Call it a new heaven and new earth, to borrow Biblical language. And you can’t move toward a new future, a different one, without imagining it in the first place.

Moving from either-or to both-and. Resisting simple exclusive solutions to complex problems. Daring to not run, not collapse, and not slug your neighbor to make it work.

Rather, recapturing lost imagination. It’s one of our greatest gifts. And probably why we have survived this long already.