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.