notes from a pandemic

true colours?

Moments of crisis can bring out the best – and the worst – in people. This insight has been used time and time again in dramatic scenarios, so much so that storytelling guru Robert McKee wrote: “True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”

I am not sure whether such a thing as an essential nature exists. But what I’ve seen during the collective response to the pandemic does resonate with this sentiment: heightened circumstances can lead us to the extremes of our characterial traits at the moment, or even bring out aspects of our character that we never knew we – or others – had.

Here is one such example: before governments the world over started implementing social distancing policies – some tragically late – a grassroots movement for people to #staythefuckhome had already spread. At its essence, this movement was altruistic, the main idea being to voluntarily stay home as much as was feasible in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Many people, already apprised of what was going on in other countries, and driven to caution by all the unknowns surrounding the virus and its modes of transmission, took matters in their own hands, and stayed home.

Remember that bar I mentioned in my first post? The one where personality-test-taking people hang out? Almost a whole week before the government announced its plans for lockdown, the owner decided it would be in the best interest of his patrons to close down shop until the situation cleared up. It was a decision that surely must have had an economic impact on the business, but it also showed, at face value, that the owner clearly valued the public good over economic gain.

On the other hand, even when the gravity of the situation was becoming more and more apparent, and social distancing was already being encouraged in the face of an unknown virus that was already filling hospitals around the world beyond capacity, others decided it was the time to put the pedal to the metal and meet as many people as possible, without actually knowing if they could be infecting their friends or not. In these cases, it did seem like people were missing the bigger picture and instead thinking of their own immediate, trivial interests.

Of course, I understand that many businesses could not afford to close down voluntarily, and that in doing so they would be jeopardising a project that has taken years to build, as well as the livelihoods of employees. And I understand that if they do not kick a fuss, at the risk of coming across as petulant, they might not move the authorities into creating safety nets to keep their businesses afloat. But it still doesn’t stop me from admiring those who were ready to take one for the team without being forced to do so by their government, in the full knowledge I might have not done the same myself.

I would like to flatter myself in thinking that I’m generous because I paid it forward to a couple of businesses that had to close down during the lockdown, but I’m sure that if the economic stability I’ve been privileged enough to enjoy for the past few years were under threat, I would have behaved in a different manner. Which does bring us to another conclusion which is pretty self-evident, but which might still be worth recalling. Even though the pandemic has affected everyone, it wasn’t a crisis for everyone in the same way. It’s one thing to be confronted with parts of yourself you usually gloss over at the bar that’s closed; it’s another to have to see the life you’ve built with your sweat and tears wither away while you’re helpless in lockdown.

notes from a pandemic


A couple of Christmases ago, I was at a bar back home, and because I hang out with nerds, they convinced me to take a Meyers-Briggs personality test on You know, the usual thing one does after a gig. According to my results, I was an ENTP-T, which is to say, for the purposes of this post, that I was mostly extroverted.

Five months later, I was speaking to another friend, and I ended up taking the test again (because I clearly need a hobby, and so does my friend), and this time, the result said I was an INFP.

I hadn’t done much with this information, and I’m certainly much too proud to confine myself to a label a random website has given me (although it’s still better than identifying with your star sign). There is also a risk of these sort of analyses turning into prescriptions or self-fulfilling prophecies, whereby we consciously behave according to what our Meyers-Briggs type or our star sign said we’d behave like. That caveat aside, however, these tools help us know ourselves – and our needs, triggers, strengths and weak points – better, a worthy response to the Delphic maxim to “know thyself”.

Although in general people tend to equate introversion with shyness, this isn’t always necessarily the case. Rather, it’s more a question on where a person draws their energy from, whether it’s from interactions with other people, or whether it’s through time spent alone. I love being in good company, ideally with a friend or in a small group, but I have realised that prolonged exposure to people exhausts me and I need alone time to recharge.

Prior to the confinement, I had a relatively active social life. I travelled, went to the gym, took language classes, went to concerts, made dinner plans, and even hosted a few gatherings at my place. Since my job is solitary, requiring very little human interaction, a reasonably sized chunk of my time was spent around other people, and I enjoyed that.

That was Before. And while in the Before, being around other people was a good thing, it became the one thing that was largely frowned upon, second only to licking doorknobs and toilet seats and coughing enthusiastically on the people around you.

When I went into social distancing, i.e. spending my whole day alone at home, I actually felt relieved. All of a sudden, my fear of missing out was gone, mostly because there was nothing much to miss out on. I felt I had time for my hobbies, my thoughts, and my projects, and was looking forward to this period of retreat.

Meanwhile, extroverts had no idea what hit them. Shortly into lockdown, the internet was awash with people embarrassing themselves on TikTok as extroverts the world over (but mostly in Italy, which had been in lockdown for a few weeks already) had no idea what to do with their own company except – and I’m being sympathetic here – reach out to others in whatever way they could.

And I can hardly blame them for feeling disoriented. A lot of our social structures seem to be more geared towards extraversion than introversion, but with everything suspended, a fair few lost their bearings.

Many of us, or even parts of us, on the other hand, breathed a sigh of relief, if only for a brief while. I’m not sure what the lesson here is. I have been in situations in which my introversion felt like a handicap. For the first time in a long while, I saw it for the strength it really is.

Of course, this isn’t a competition. These two different personalities can bring out different sides in one another, and it is our duty to learn how our psychological makeup affects ourselves and those around us. But let’s just say that if it were, this time round, the introverts would be winning.