Almost everything you read these days begins with some variant of this: These are stressful times. It then goes on to give you information about the pandemic, how the virus is spreading rapidly in some places, and has completely vanished in others.
Then you read about how people hoard toilet paper, how hospitals turn patients away, and how the most vulnerable bear the brunt of the crisis. There’s an air of fear, mistrust, and uncertainty gripping you from all sides. It seems only natural to have such reactions.
Or is it?
There is no denying that the nature of the virus is such that we must be cautious about our every movement and of our loved ones. In fact, we must also be cautious of those around us (perhaps even more so than ourselves) because they are undeniably a threat too.
But it is equally important to think about whether this suspicion of others is solving any of our problems or simply adding to them under the disguise of self-protection.
In an attempt to protect ourselves and our loved ones, we find ourselves shutting off more and more from the world. There’s nowhere for us to be, no metro to ride, no cab driver to chat with. We are talking to fewer and fewer people, and slowly, we’re also talking less and less. Yes, we can connect virtually, but we continue to feel unstable. We tell ourselves this is the price we must pay for our own well-being.
Is it, though?
In her book A Paradise Built in Hell, American author Rebecca Solnit says that disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes tear down the barriers that isolate people from each other under normal times.
She says “the history of disaster demonstrates that most of us are social animals, hungry for connection, as well as for purpose and meaning”. And that the worst natural and man-made disasters “drag us into emergencies that require we act, and act altruistically, bravely, and with initiative in order to survive or save our neighbors, no matter how we vote or what we do for a living”.
We’re All In This Together
Suddenly, the cliche “we’re all in this together” begins to feel more like a reality check than mere rhetoric. Indeed, we are social beings after all. We crave social interaction. The pandemic is only bringing to light how deep that craving can be. Believe it or not, recent research suggests that our need for connection with others could be as fundamental as our need to eat.
Why then, are we choosing to shut off? How is it that we could simultaneously crave social connection but also resist it?
The first step to finding answers to these questions would be to remind ourselves that our intuition may not always be right. We need to be able to question the part in us that convinces us to think only for ourselves, stock up on food, and see everyone else as a threat.
In his podcast Making Sense, neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris talks to cognitive scientist Laurie Santos about the science of happiness. She makes a case for how rational people aren’t really doing things to make themselves happy. Quoting Canadian social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn’s research, Santos insists that making others happy actually improves one’s own well-being.
Among other things, Dunn’s experiment showed that people who spent money on others were happier than those who spent it on themselves. Santos extends this to time too. She encourages people to spend their time on others: you could volunteer, lend your services, or simply stay connected through technology. In thinking of others’ happiness, you will actually be boosting your own.
And that’s why many everyday people are putting their lives at risk to lend a helping hand in these uncertain times. These are the new heroes. People with Hero Habits. These are people who are able to think through the clutter and focus on solving problems as best they can. In doing so, they are not just helping others, but also gaining a larger sense of purpose themselves.
So if altruism wasn’t reason enough for you to seriously think about others’ well-being as a way for your own happiness, maybe science will do the trick. At the end of the day, it’s about seeing what brings us together rather than what separates us, and to remember that most of us crave similar things. One of them being each other.
You may also check out Harappa's Critical Thinking Course, Thinking Critically which will help you in demonstrating humility towards people. Begin your journey towards professional success with our Online Learning Courses.
Manisha Koppala is an Associate Specialist in the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. The literature graduate from Ashoka University loves a cup of good coffee and happens to be a free-hugs dispenser, though virtually these days.
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