It was midnight and I was studying for the finals when I heard loud screams outside my window. I was used to this and wasn’t really bothered by it. In fact, I sometimes liked to join this aimless screaming from my window. After all, it was tradition.
The Midnight Yell has been a part of UCLA culture for a long time. During the finals week every quarter, students open their windows at midnight to yell as loudly as they can. The yells and screams are an outlet for all the accumulated stress and pressure of studying constantly.
Whether I participated or not, I felt validated when I heard the Yell every night of that week. I knew I wasn’t alone dealing with exam stress. Every UCLA student was going through the same thing. And the Yell was a way of collective de-stressing. I smiled to myself and continued to study.
What are such community based activities truly about? I believe that it’s their communal nature that brings me feelings of ease and joy. It could be in the form of a cultural festival, a traditional coordinated yell to deal with exam pressure, or even an act of togetherness during times of crises.
The coronavirus pandemic is one such crisis that has brought the world together. We are all experiencing different forms of anxiety. Be it worrying about our health, our careers, or even our lack of social interaction.
Whatever it is, we are experiencing it together. As the crisis has deepened and cities forced to lockdown, communities across the world have come together in solidarity to help people both online and offline.
Despite socially restrictive distancing precautions, Italians stood on their balconies and sang to each other; Indians stepped out and lit candles to show support for healthcare workers; thousands in Europe clapped together in gratitude to all the people who keep essential services running such as health workers and firefighters.
In this time of togetherness, people are also helping each other with acts of altruism. They are sewing masks for distribution, delivering food to the homeless and raising funds for healthcare support and to feed the homeless.
Helplines are open free of cost, and healthcare workers and professional researchers are working overtime to treat the affected, build and distribute testing kits, and find a vaccination. People are coming together regardless of any personal cost to themselves.
These acts of kindness have one message: We’re all this together.
You’re all probably familiar with the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest that suggests humans, like all other animals, have an innate driver to compete with each other for resources that ensure their survival. And in this competition, the fittest survive.
But during this coronavirus crisis, there seems to be almost no competition. Instead, we see cooperation. People are not just participating in community gestures that make them feel like a part of the same team but also are risking their own health and safety and giving up their hard-earned resources to help each other survive.
Why? Positive psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests that humans are similar to bees. Like bees, humans are social creatures whose cooperative behavior ensures the collective survival of the group.
When we help someone, our brain actually rewards us by releasing dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel good. This reinforces us to help others more and more. Helping is a habit we are pretty much born with.
Based on this idea, Haidt developed the Hive Hypothesis which says a sense of belonging to a group, or “hive”, cultivates happiness and promotes well-being in people. Each “hive” has a uniting belief, an experience, or something that brings individuals together.
For example, what motivates people to fight and sacrifice themselves during wars? It is a sense of belonging to and pride in their nation as well as an innate will to protect that nation (their hive). In other words, what we refer to as ‘patriotism’.
Belonging to that hive creates a sense of unity, which feels rewarding to us and motivates us to cooperate with each other for our collective good against an outsider.
The current pandemic has forced humanity as a whole into one hive — linked by the experience of having our health and safety threatened by a virus. We are all now on the same team.
Participating in these community activities gives us a sense of cohesiveness, like we are part of something bigger than ourselves. This collective identity gives us a feeling of satisfaction and thus, is good for our mental well-being.
We feel happy when we activate our hive minds to cooperate for our collective survival, even if it’s at the cost of our personal well-being. It is no surprise then that people are coming together as one and protecting each other at any cost during the global coronavirus crisis.
Being part of the UCLA students’ hive gave me a sense of belonging that I needed not just while studying for my exams, but in many other ways as well. That’s what hives do. We support each other as we are wired to do. The same way the hive of all humanity is cooperating and standing in solidarity during this crisis.
Haripriya Dalmia is an Associate in the Learning Impact team at Harappa Education. She double majored in Psychology and Economics from UCLA. She enjoys singing and reading feminist literature.
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