The latest lockdown in Ontario has many of us confused, fearful and resolute. If you’re working from home and have young children requiring care, or school-aged children learning virtually, the burdens also engender anger and exhaustion. If you have loved ones in care homes, you are plagued with concern for their health and wellbeing. All while we are advised, 45 times in one 40–minute press conference, to stay home. It’s as simple as that.
We all know how to stay home. We’re tired and distrustful. The popular “I’m confused, I don’t understand” response to the message is evidence that more information needs to be shared. Such an easy instruction: stay home. It fell upon ears that resisted, criticized, and ignored.
People know how to wear masks. They know how to wash their hands. Most can eyeball a distance of two meters. Still, many just don’t want to do it. They imagine themselves with a Covid resistance shield around them. They don’t wish to take responsibility to stop the potential spread. They lack the fear of the risks of the disease.
It turns out that “stay home” requires a back page of exceptions that, when brought forward, clears up much of the misunderstanding. Albeit, the logic has yet to win any votes of confidence.
It seems to me that the critical miss is, sadly, instilling enough fear of the virus and the repercussions of overcrowded hospitals. In my recollection, the fear of lung cancer from smoking was made real by visuals and testimonials of victims of the disease. The videos of tragic car crashes and body bags has cut down the incidents of drunk driving. It’s not perfect. However, it created a sustainable shift in the mindsets and behaviours of a whole generation. Yes, it was manipulating through fear. Yes, they were graphically honest about the consequences. Yes, it worked.
Fear energized the masses to make different decisions, avoid taking risks with their health and safety, and take responsibility to not endanger others.
As a coach, I am occasionally engaged to work with executives to examine and resolve disruptive and resistant behaviours exhibited by them or their team. Understanding the foundations of confusion and pushback is the key to establishing acceptance and compliance. The layer beneath “I don’t understand” is “I don’t like it.” And the layer beneath that is fear. A sustainable path to change behaviour is to address the emotion. Fear is a powerful motivator.
The rampant growth in the number of cases is achieving, what so far has been unattainable for many jurisdictions. What was on the news feeds, on front pages, and happening to others, is now seeping into all of our lives. I am noticing increased vigilance in maintaining distances. I am noticing attention and compliance to the headcount for outdoor gatherings. I am noticing more stories of fear of the contagion and the variants. The role of being vulnerable instills fear. It’s this reality that will motivate us to comply with the restrictions.
Hearing of overcrowding in intensive care units, of exhausted nurses, of staffing challenges, and ventilator shortages are terrifying to me. I know what it’s supposed to look like. Several years ago, I sat bedside for weeks with my sister-in-law as she fought to stay alive. She was attached by several clear plastic snakes to a stand of vertical monitors that measured every aspect of her bodily functions. Every time one of them beeped, we jumped. A nurse would appear, attend to dials, check her pulse, and temperature, and then give us a sad smile as she faded back to the work station at the end of Jo’s bed. The ventilator, with the accordion–pleated tubing lying on her chest, traveled up and over Jo’s chin, and into her mouth through a fixed plastic frame. During the six weeks, Jo was somewhat awake for about five days. Those were the most disturbing. Her deep brown eyes and lovely arched brows wild with fear and confusion. Unable to talk, she shook her head and seemed to plead with us silently. If she was asking us to let her go, we finally had to. We had no choice.
I now have friends who have had Covid. Within my circle of acquaintances and clients, there have been deaths, from the disease and from the mental health challenges associated with the pandemic. It’s near and real.
I am turning my currents of vulnerability and fear into intentional protection for me and those I care about. It’s an investment in the future, which I now believe to be closer than it was a few months ago. Despite the clouds of distrust and monotony of time and isolation, I am making plans for a brighter, safer, and more open community.
At least, that is my experience.