Stillness. It's an art isn't it.
Just yesterday we entered a form of stillness via Lockdown. Whatever stage of this you're at you'll be feeling it differently. And each of us has our own inner barometer that will hover somewhere between a 1 (calm) to a 10 (anxious).
Attaining a number 1 isn't what we're aiming for. We each have our own baseline, and that's without adding a global pandemic into the mix. For some, anxiety is the norm, so it's unwise to compare our experience of Covid-19 and self-isolation to that of another.
Despite that, we have a tendency to assume we know how life is for others. We believe we can put ourselves in their shoes. But perspective is often a psychological illusion. Even when we think we're approaching it from the other side, we're still at the mercy of our own filters, biases and limited life experience. No matter how broad that experience might be.
Recognising this is going to help during these unprecedented times.
When we read reports of people hoarding toilet rolls and fighting over packets of pasta, it makes it easy to judge them as selfish, crazy or overreacting. But it's likely the people making those decisions don't see it that way.
For many, life has been a constant river of fear. According to the UNSW Poverty in Australia Report, 13.6% of Australians live below the poverty line. Life for those – and many others – could have been a consistent game of hide and seek. Something bad was always lurking around the corner and they've spent their entire lives trying to hide or run away from it.
I'm talking about poverty, abuse, domestic violence, gender oppression, racial discrimination and any other form of structural or cultural violence.
The steady truth is that most people have encountered some kind of anxiety (chronic or acute) during their life, and for anyone whose lived experience sits peripheral to the white privileged few, it only takes the hint of danger for anxiety levels to rise and for panic to take over.
Judging a person's behaviour in their moments of panic or fear is like judging the icing on a cupcake for having too many calories.
We have to look at it as a whole.
A cupcake isn't bad and wrong for being what it is, and the icing isn't the grim reaper of calories. The whole cake was put together by mixing a group of ingredients in a certain way. It can't help being a cupcake and the icing is part of it, not separate and distinct.
How the cupcake turns out is reliant on a limitless number of variants.
Maybe there was a power cut and the oven turned off before it was fully baked. Perhaps you put salt in the mix thinking it was sugar. Maybe you added cocoa for extra depth and cherries for a sweet-sour touch. Even though the recipe was for plain sponge.
Different ingredients don't make a cake wrong, they simply make it different. Often better.
When it comes to presenting the cake to the world you might have placed it on a fancy plate (if you had one). Or you might have cut it into pieces to share at a picnic.
Presuming you didn't use salt instead of sugar and all the ingredients were 'just right', there's a chance that someone won't like it. Chocolate and cherries? "Bleurgh. Your cake is too moist," they might say, "I like my sponge white and dense."
Not being what someone wants (or likes) isn't the fault of the cake any more than a person who fears running out of sanitary items or tinned goods is wrong for doing so.
Each of us is simply responding to life as we see fit. And each of us comes with a history. We are literal, walking libraries. How we are today is directly related to our past. No matter how much 'work' you've done on yourself, you are a portable shelf stacked full of your own encounters.
Pointing the finger at the behaviour of others and calling it selfish is no less an act of violence than snaring all the loo roll and leaving nothing for others.
Yes, the best choice would be to share. Yes, a wiser behaviour would be to collaborate and consider others. But the compassionate version takes a look at the situation in its entirety and recognises that each person will see it (and react) in their own way.
And that, in itself, isn't wrong.
Why? Because if we're going to judge people for responding from a place of fear and accuse them of being inconsiderate to others when they panic buy loo roll, then maybe it's time to hold up that same gavel and see where we're turning a blind eye to far greater acts of indecency.
For example: are the perpetrators of sexual abuse considering others when they coerce or perform sexual acts on their victims? Are our banks considering the welfare of the people when they allow billionaires tax exemptions that could be put back into the system and help change the lives of millions of people living below the poverty line?
Are men who indifferently walk the streets at night considering what it might be like to be a woman who can't do the same? Are any of us considering what it might be like to be a kind and generous Muslim in a world that has packaged them all into a fundamentalist box of misunderstanding?
And for those of us who don't think we fall under any of the above categories. Is it our fault that we don't notice what's going on and are simple getting along with our self-absorbed lives because the reality of paying bills and staying sane are as much as we can handle right now.
None of it is our fault. But all of it makes a difference and will play a role in how we respond on any given day under a certain set of circumstances.
You might be more triggered by child abuse. You might feel more outraged at religious or racist slants. Maybe it's toilet roll that's got your goat.
Whatever your past, you know what it's like to be wrongly judged. And you know what it's like to feel fear. Sometimes your own fear might seem unwarranted, but you feel it anyways.
Being in lockdown is likely to bring some of that fear to the surface. What will happen if I lose my job? When will this end? Will I get sick? Will someone I know be affected and die? Will I ever again be able to hug my family members who live overseas?
Will I run out of toilet paper and have to face the humiliation of wiping up my shit with my own hand after all I've been through?
Will being able to govern how many boxes of tissues I buy bring me a glimmer of control that was taken away from me as a child?
Will having a stocked cupboard in times of global panic provide me with some sense of security that I've never had before?
I'm not saying that everyone who's been stockpiling 2-minute Noodles was abused as a child but I am saying this: that each and every one of us has a past and nobody knows what that is.
Social conditioning is real and saying we should all be able to be our Best Selves and behave like model citizens is a violation of human rights. How? Because the unrealistic expectations we hold for ourselves and others is damaging. The fact that we don't realise it is fundamental to our awakening.
Spitting venom at others for expressing fear is a misguided judgement that would be better directed at unreliable governments, self-serving banking systems and politicians who lack integrity.
We ARE our best selves. Even when we're scrambling for baby wipes and pesto sauce.
What we're seeing today is a reflection of the structural violence that has been allowed to play out over centuries.
Child abuse is a pandemic.
Domestic abuse is a pandemic.
Gender and racial oppression is a pandemic.
Homophobia and religious bias is a pandemic.
Economic inequality is a pandemic.
Social and political structures that serve the few and penalise the majority are a pandemic.
Covid-19 will pass. The rest of it we'll still have to deal with. Let's hope that this time of introspection and introversion will lead us to increased awareness, greater peace and help bring us closer together, rather than push us further apart.
Until then, keep your nose (and arsehole) clean, and stay well.