Category Archives: Uncategorized

Protests and Marches Are Not Enough

I saw a Facebook post that said, “I wonder why we did not fix this racial issue when we had a black president for 8 years?” This social media post was presumably a response to recent Black Lives Matter protests. My response was to suggest that 400 years of systemic racism can’t change in 8 years. Wouldn’t it be great if protests on a grand scale initiated long term systemic change? Unfortunately, drawing attention to societal problems does not fix them. Personally, I get discouraged. How much is really changed?

The 1960’s civil rights movement did not ameliorate racism. The Me Too movement has not stopped sexual harassment and sexual abuse. The Peoples’ Climate March in September 2014 was the largest and most diverse climate mobilization on record, and yet, we continue to experience global warming and increasing natural disasters. The Women’s March was a worldwide protest on January 21, 2017. It was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. And yet, in the United States, the average female’s unadjusted annual salary is approximately 78% of that of the average male. A moment in time, a day, or a period in history does not, in itself, cause long term change.

It is human nature to return to our set point or comfort zone. Despite raised awareness and good intentions, we fall back to prior behavior. The rate of relapses among people who set goals is high. Perpetrators of domestic violence are reported to be violence-free up to three years after treatment. Figures vary on substance addictions, but approximately 40-60% will relapse. 97% of dieters regain what they lost within 3-5 years. Medication non-adherence leads to worsening of disease, death, and increased health care costs.

Here’s what doesn’t work for systemic change:

Intentions alone are not sufficient to sustain change. Excitement fades.

Negative emotions such as shame doesn’t produce change. We all experience negative emotions such as regret, shame, fear, and guilt. But negative emotions are the least effective change strategies. For example, scolding a heavy drinker won’t cause them to stop drinking.

Information is not sufficient. Information is only as useful as what you do with it. You can know something and still do nothing. Well-intentioned advice does not produce motivation for change.

Even with compromise, people tend to go back to their set points.

So, if the question is, “Can people change?” The answer is yes, and no. We can change our individual habits and behaviors and never address societal change. Change is rarely just one thing; it’s a lot of connected things and sustained change doesn’t happen without a consideration of broad implications.

So what does work for systemic change? Systemic change happens on a policy and procedural basis. Individual change is insufficient for systemic change. Systemic racism, sexism, and other isms are broader than individual people and require policy and procedural change.

For example, perpetrators of domestic violence do not enter treatment because they have a change of heart. Abusers who demonstrate significant change are externally motivated to change, rather than internally motivated. External motivators may come from a spouse who will leave them if they don’t change, or the threat of jail. Internal motivators such as remorse do not lead to lasting change. Remaining abusive is easier than changing, and more rewarding for the abusers.

Although I can become discouraged about racism, sexism, etc., I support community and political efforts for change. Participating in elections is one of the key freedoms of American life. Many people in countries around the world do not have the same freedom, nor did many Americans in centuries past. No matter what you believe or whom you support, it is important to exercise your rights. Continue to march, protest, and raise awareness. But be sure to vote and work toward systemic change.

It’s Not About Intention, It’s About Impact

Author Robin DiAngelo of White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, challenges the assumption that racism has to be intentional. Most people feel good intentions exempt them from accountability. She calls for white people to examine their bias and its impact on people of color, not their intentions. This holds true for most offenses, whether it is racism, sexism, or other isms, including interpersonal conflicts.

As a couple’s counselor, I meet people who have been hurt by betrayal, abuse or neglect. Yet, they come to therapy with hopes of healing and reconciliation. The person who caused their partner’s pain generally wants their partner to know that they did not intend to cause pain. “I never meant any harm; I would never want to hurt you.” They are not monsters who deliberately inflict pain. Establishing good intention is a beginning, but is not sufficient to heal broken relationships.

Many people believe that if our intentions are good, then the impact of our behavior should not count. “I did not mean to do that, so therefore, you know, get over it.” Not so easy. The offender has to be held accountable for the impact to their partner. Speaking about intention can be an attempt to deflect criticism. It turns the conversation away from the painful impact, thereby minimizing the consequences of their actions.

A better response is, “I did not mean to do that, and I would never have wanted to do that, but I see that I have indeed done that, and for that I apologize. Where can we go from here?”

In Janis Abrahms Spring’s book, How Can I Forgive You?, she lists seven guidelines in making a good apology:

  1. Take responsibility for the damage you caused. For your apology to take hold, you must acknowledge your role.
  2. Make your apology personal. It’s not just an admission that, “I did something wrong”, but an admission that “I wronged you. I did this to you.”
  3. Make your apology specific. You don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” You say exactly what you are sorry for.
  4. Make your apology deep. If you want to be forgiven, you admit the whole wretched truth of what you did, naming the unflattering truth about yourself.
  5. Make your apology heartfelt. Your remorse must be real, profound and enduring, not self-serving, to rid yourself of guilt.
  6. Make your apology clean, straightforward and uncomplicated. No “buts” or defenses.
  7. Apologize repeatedly for serious injuries. A single apology may not be sufficient to restore your good standing.

Robin DiAngelo would add,

8.    Examine your bias and its impact. Work to right the personal and systemic impact of your actions.

Are You Harboring Thoughts of Revenge?

I happened to see a powerful video in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests. It made me ponder on the role of revenge. Kimberly Latrice Jones was extremely angry and made this statement. “They are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.”

The desire to seek revenge for mistreatment is universal. It has been said that revenge is sweet. But is it? And if you harbor a desire for revenge, what does it say about your character?

The definition of revenge is to inflict hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong. A thirst for sweet revenge can last a lifetime. But it turns out that revenge is not so sweet after the first rush of brain activity. Behavioral scientists found that instead of satisfying anger, revenge can prolong the unpleasantness of the original offense. And revenge can institute a cycle of retaliation, fueling additional hostility and aggression. Revenge does not dissolve the anger caused by the original offense.

Certain groups and societies are more prone to seek revenge because there’s just no other way to obtain justice. There is no recourse to law and they have to rely on their own retaliatory methods. Black Lives Matter protests are an outcome of black Americans belief that the criminal justice system fails them.

What is your expectation for the emotional benefits that will come of revenge? If you are seeking catharsis through revenge, you will likely be disappointed. Kevin Carlsmith, a social psychologist, concluded from his studies that people erroneously believe revenge will make them feel better and help them gain closure. In actuality, punishers ruminate on their deed and feel worse than those who don’t take revenge.

There are a couple of ways that revenge can be sweet. It is satisfying if the offender makes a direct connection between the retaliation and the initial offense – in other words, if the person who did the wrong gets that what they did was wrong, and why it was wrong. Put another way, revenge is only satisfying when an offender understands why the act of vengeance has occurred. They need a message of understanding. For example, “We white Americans understand that systemic racism has hurt you and caused your pain”. Unacknowledged revenge feels no better than none at all. It is the offender’s recognition of their wrongdoing that makes revenge sweet. Revenge is also sweet if the revenge prevents future offenses.

Everyone is slighted from time to time. But why do some people seek revenge and others don’t? Studies have found that people who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, authority, and the desire for status. Those people tend to be less forgiving and benevolent. Another study indicates that sadism is the dominant personality trait that explains why certain people are more likely than others to seek vengeance. The person who seeks revenge is a person who tends to enjoy it.

In summary, examine your desire for revenge. What do you expect the outcome to be? Is it your only recourse for justice? Is your motivation pure? Consider forgiveness. It can enable you to suppress the desire for revenge and help you to move on.

There’s Nothing Funny About Sexual Harassment

Warning: This contains offensive language

WGN TV viewers were recently subject to watching a female reporter being assaulted on a live news show. Gaynor Hall was broadcasting a news segment on weather damage on May 23rd, when Eric Farina, age 20, caught her off guard, seemingly coming out of nowhere, by grabbing her shoulders and saying “F-ck her right in the p-ssy” while looking directly into the camera with a look of glee in his eyes. He then ran out of the news station. He was later identified and now faces battery and disorderly conduct charges. Ms. Hall later said, “It was not funny. You violated my personal space. You grabbed me. You scared me. Was it worth it?”

Hall was embarrassed and frightened at her place of employment while being exposed on national TV. Her role as a professional was demeaned and she was subject to remarks that ran the gamut from shock, support, and humiliating jokes. Some remarks seemed to trivialize sexual assault – “Boys will be boys”, “He must have been drunk”, and some made sexually explicit jokes.

Definitions of sexual harassment vary by state, but sexual harassment can include sexual assault such as rape or grabbing, creating a hostile environment, pervasive jokes/comments, looks, and body language that makes an individual feel harassed. 

Farina’s comment objectified Ms. Hall. This sort of language and behavior is prevalent in a “Rape Culture”. According to Marshall University Women’s Center, Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape Culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.

Apparently, Farina is emulating a 2014 meme, “F-ck her right in the p-ssy”, and a video that went viral. On January 4th, 2014, Cincinnati-based filmmaker John Cain uploaded a video titled “Reporter fired for remarks about missing woman on LIVE TV”, which shows a reporter for a local news station making inappropriate remarks on camera, including the line, “I’ll f-ck her right in the p-ssy.” He uploaded a second video titled, “Reporter interrupted during live broadcast,” which begins with a reporter who is suddenly interrupted by a mustached man in a black hoodie and sunglasses who grabs the microphone and yells, “F-ck her right in the p-ssy”. In the first four months, the video gained over 2.4 million views and 1,100 comments. There were even T-shirts sold with this meme on it. After a third video, the stunt was eventually debunked as a viral hoax campaign. We don’t know what motivated him to do this, but the effect is to perpetuate Rape Culture.

It seems apparent, by Farina’s look of glee, that he thought he was being clever, cute, or funny. There is nothing funny about it. Sexist humor that belittles women is often perceived as harmless. In reality, it contributes to an environment where it becomes socially acceptable to perpetrate violence against women. Studies have shown that men’s enjoyment of sexist jokes is positively correlated to their self-reported rape proclivity. Rape proclivity is a self-reported measurement that demonstrates a man’s willingness to rape a woman under the circumstance that they would not be discovered. Alone, it does not determine if a man is more likely to actually commit rape, only his self-reported willingness to rape.

President Trump was quoted on October 17, 2016, as having made a comment in 2005, “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything…grab them by the pussy.” In spite of his self-proclamation of sexually assaulting women, he would go on to win the presidential election. His behavior was excused and set a low standard for trivializing sexual assault.

I am personally disappointed to learn of Gaynor Hall’s sexual harassment on-air, particularly because the message of the Me Too campaign has not reached to the level of men like Farina, who continue to commit such acts. Survivors shared their stories. Some powerful men lost their jobs. Some federal and state laws have changed. But at a broader social level, not enough has changed.

Righteous Anger

At the time of this writing, protests over racism and police violence have continued in at least 75 cities across the United States and London, Berlin, and Toronto in the days after George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by a white police officer. A video captured the incident in which Floyd is already pinned chest down to the ground, and Officer Chauvin is kneeling on his neck. Floyd goes silent and motionless, but Chauvin does not lift his knee from Floyd’s neck. The bystanders protest that Floyd is “not responsive”, and repeatedly ask the police to check Floyd’s pulse. An ambulance eventually arrives, and Chauvin does not remove his knee until emergency medical services put Floyd’s unresponsive body on a stretcher. This video showed that Chauvin had knelt on Floyd’s neck for at least seven minutes. People are taking their anger to the streets in a demonstration of protest. Unfortunately, for many reasons, protests have turned to looting and burning.

Anger, even rage, is a morally right and justifiable emotion in the face of this murder. Righteous anger is a reactive emotion of anger over mistreatment. It is a healthy, appropriate, and reasonable response to an injustice.

The external expressions of anger are intended to warn aggressors to stop their threatening behavior and can serve as a tool for survival. Rage is typically loud, big, unpredictable, and dangerous. Anger is a normal and intense emotional response to a provocation, hurt, or threat. The body reacts with such things as an increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, increased adrenaline, and noradrenaline. The body is then primed for a fight. Resulting riots should not surprise those of us living in the United States when there is rarely acknowledgment, apology, restitution, closure, or justice for racist acts.

Anger in itself is not good or bad. But it is a signal that something is wrong and requires change. It can be expressed through destructive means or it can be a strategy for social influence. Anger can be suppressed or can be expressed as passive, aggressive, or assertive. Suppressed anger will often find an outlet. For example, suppressed anger about racism found an outlet resulting in these riots. Passive anger takes a toll on one’s health and wellbeing. Aggressive anger is evidenced in violence, vandalism, threats to persons and property. Assertive anger holds the wrongdoer accountable, seeks justice, and responsible outcome.

MLK, Jr wrote in 1967, “Riots are socially destructive and self-defeating, but it is the language of the unheard. As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riot over and over again.” Racism is systemic and institutionalized in the US. It must be corrected through assertive action.

Floyd’s girlfriend, Courtney Ross, asked for the community to respond to his death in a way that honors him. She said: “You can’t fight fire with fire. Everything just burns, and I’ve seen it all day – people hate, they’re hating, they’re hating, they’re mad. And he would not want that.”

Killer Mike, activist and rapper, is angry and tired of seeing black men die. However, he appealed to the public to stop burning and looting. Instead, he encouraged coordinated action to address the system of systemic racism. “We must plot, we must plan, we must strategize, and we must organize and mobilize.”

For those of us who are not people of color, we must listen, learn, and be good allies. As an example, I saw a photo from a rally in downtown Louisville, where people called for justice in the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her apartment in March by Louisville police during a no-knock warrant. It shows a line of white women, arms locked, standing between Louisville Metro Police officers and black protesters. “This is a line of white people forming a barrier between black protesters and the police. This is love. This is what you do with your privilege,” the post states.

Take assertive action to stop racism in your corner of the world. Responsible action will turn anger to hope. Listen, learn, join arms, and as so many have said “be the change”.

Alcohol and Covid19

South Africa has banned the sale and transportation of alcohol during the coronavirus lockdown. That seems like a bad idea. Heavy drinkers could be slammed into withdrawal symptoms. If a heavy drinker is abruptly cut off from alcohol, they may require hospitalization, thereby increasing the number of trauma cases requiring emergency care.

The decision to ban alcohol in South Africa has roots in stigma. This stigma is a socio-cultural process in which alcoholics are traditionally devalued, rejected, and excluded. Alcoholism, like other addictions, is a chronic disease affecting the brain. This, in turn, leads to dysfunction in the physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of a person’s life. It is my opinion that people who suffer from alcohol dependence are just as valuable as people who suffer from Covid19. They should be treated as such, rather than be subject to a harsh withdrawal.

The ban has its roots in good intentions. Alcohol is involved in, or responsible for, at least 40% of all emergency hospital admission. It is estimated that 34,000 trauma cases present to hospital emergency rooms in South Africa. If you eliminate alcohol, you’ll allow room for Covid19 patients. It will prevent drunken fights as well as reduce domestic violence and driving accidents. They predict that if the ban on alcohol sales was lifted, they would have about 5,000 new admissions in trauma units each week.

Who doesn’t enjoy a cold beer on a hot day or a good wine paired with your meal on occasion? Alcohol can provide a sense of well-being, may deaden pain, or reduce social anxiety. But the downside is that alcohol can cause impulsive behavior, poor concentration, fatigue, poor balance, poor coordination, confusion, poor memory, poor judgment, slurred speech. Worse yet, however, it can require a medically dangerous withdrawal. It can shrink the brain and cause liver and heart damage, birth defects, and seizures. One can die of alcohol overdose.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs when a person abruptly stops drinking after heavy alcohol use and may trigger life-threatening health complications. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur as early as two hours after your last drink. Typically, symptoms will peak within the first 24 to 48 hours upon cessation. This is when you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, rapid heartbeat, changes in blood pressure, sweating, tremors, and fever.

Alcohol can affect your immune system. If you drink every day or almost every day, you might notice that you catch colds, flu, or other illnesses more frequently than people who don’t drink. This is because alcohol can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infections. You are more vulnerable to a negative Covid19 outcome. It can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome.

People who are dependent upon alcohol will find a way to continue drinking, whether legal or not. It’s no surprise that an unintended consequence of the ban in South Africa is an underground swell of illegal activity. Police are reported to be harsh in the crackdown of anyone who is dealing or carrying alcohol. In communities in which people are unable to put food on the table, they may turn to home breweries to make a living.

The World Health Organization advises you to avoid alcohol altogether. If you drink, keep it to a minimum. The CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Heavy drinking occurs when women have eight or more drinks a week and men have fifteen or more drinks per week.

Be safe.

The Problem With Masks

Some people refuse to wear masks, but for the most part, we’re all wearing masks in public places. I did some grocery shopping in Walmart today, wearing my mask. I passed other shoppers, making brief eye contact. I gave a polite smile as we do when we see another human, aiming to be pleasant. It occurred to me that they could not see my smile, and I could not see if they returned the polite gesture in kind. After realizing that we were able to exchange face to face glances because I was walking the wrong way down the aisle, I wondered if in fact, there had been a frown under the mask instead of a smile. I couldn’t read their faces.

It is not a new condition to lack the ability to read facial expressions. Some people suffer from face blindness, regardless of masks. Face blindness is a brain disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces. Face blindness is thought to be the result of brain damage or impairment. Depending upon the severity of this condition, some people may only have difficulty recognizing a familiar face, others will be unable to discriminate between unknown faces, while still others may not even be able to distinguish a face as being different from an object. Some people with the disorder are unable to recognize their own face. People with this disorder generally compensate to recognize people with extra layers of information such as gait, voice, eye color, clothing, or hairstyle.

In this time of the Covid19 pandemic, and without the ability to read facial expression, we miss normal social cues. Mouth expressions and movements are essential in reading people. For example, the expression on a person’s face can help determine if we trust or believe what an individual is saying. One study found that the most trustworthy facial expression involved a slight raise of the eyebrows and a slight smile. Another study found that individuals who had narrower faces and more prominent noses were more likely to be perceived as intelligent. People with smiling, joyful expressions are judged as being more intelligent than those with angry expressions.

There are other difficulties that masks pose. We may not recognize our friends and thereby lose an opportunity for social connection. More importantly, we may not know if we are in danger if we can’t judge emotion. We will not be able to determine whether to approach or avoid.

Incidentally, men are less likely to wear a mask than women. A new survey of 2,459 people living in the US has found that men are less likely to don face masks because they believe wearing one is “shameful,” “a sign of weakness,” and “not cool.” The survey, conducted by American and British researchers, also found that men are less likely to believe they’ll be significantly impacted by Covid-19 than women. In truth, there is evidence showing that men are much more likely to die from coronavirus.

Men are not alone in feeling strange wearing masks. However, one study found that the more people use masks, the less strange it feels for the people to wear masks, and so the higher the acceptance for using them.

What are we to do? We will learn to compensate. We will rely on gait, voice, eye color, clothing, or hairstyle to recognize our acquaintances.

Don’t You Hate Asking for Money?

Unemployment insurance claims in the US exceeded three million this week due to Covid-19. This is greater than the number of people seeking unemployment in the Great Recession. This figure does not include self-employed people, contractors, or freelance workers. This is a global pandemic of unemployment. It is an economic crisis within a health crisis.

I’ve lived through both financial lack and times when I’ve had plenty. I hate to take money from others but conversely, I love to be generous. It warms my heart to give to others in need. I’ve been fortunate to have generous family and friends who have offered to help me financially when I was going through hard times. Some have simply sent money and gift cards without prompting. As wonderful as that is, it is also humbling, even somewhat painful.

Why is it so hard to accept help? It places us in a position of submission or indebtedness. We fear being judged. We feel that we aren’t competent enough to achieve financial security or that we failed to plan for a rainy day. It feels like a public display of weakness. We prefer to be perceived as capable.

Suddenly losing your income presents a psychological challenge. As people lose jobs, they also lose income, security, and status. It’s not certain how long businesses will be impacted. This increases stress and anxiety. Studies show that people who suffered financial, housing, or job-related hardship following the Great Recession were more vulnerable to mental health problems.

There is no single cause of suicide, but unemployment can be associated with an increased risk for suicide. Suicide rates increase when the economy is in recession and fall when the economy is booming. Individual factors like poor mental health and the availability of unemployment benefits play a role in who might be at risk of suicide. Losing a job does not indicate immediate suicide risk, but the risk increases the longer a person is unemployed. Social support from family and friends seems to protect unemployed people from suicidal thoughts, particularly for people who have been unemployed for more than a year. Another factor for at-risk people is whether they blame themselves.

It may cause great personal angst to ask for financial help, but Covid-19 lockdowns present a unique situation in our lifetime.

After applying for all available government aid and loans, reach out to your support network. First of all, select a person who has the means to help and with whom you have a close reciprocal relationship. Let them know what steps you’ve taken to alleviate your situation, and that you have exhausted all your resources. Explain clearly how much you want and for what purpose. Discuss why you need it and how you plan to pay it back. Don’t expect an immediate response. Allow them time to think it over. Talking face to face increases the chances of a positive reply. Respect their decision no matter the outcome. If your request is granted, make sure to establish terms and conditions on the loan, getting an agreement in writing. If denied, don’t let money come between you and your friendship.

Surely we can all agree that we are not to blame for financial loss as a result of Covid-19. Let’s be compassionate to ourselves and to each other as we struggle to find our way. Former President George W. Bush released a COVID-19 video. He said it well; “In the final analysis, we are not bipartisan combatants, we are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful.” Let’s support each other as such.

Choose Wisely

I understand why people are protesting to open restrictions. This Coronavirus pandemic lockdown is wearing on me also. I miss visiting with friends over a good meal served at a restaurant, I’m long overdue for a haircut, and desperately wanting to hug the children in my family. My vacation was cancelled, masks hurt my ears and I want to get back to my normal work routine. My heart goes out to people who have lost employment and closed businesses. Of course I want to reopen America. But my feelings are not reasons to act irresponsibly.

At the time of this writing, several states have already started to reopen business. Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska loosened lockdown orders. Georgia and Oklahoma allowed salons, spas and barbershops to open their doors. Alaska allowed restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops to open. How quickly and to what degree should other states reopen? These are critical decisions that should be based on research and tracking, not on emotions. Irresponsible actions are potentially deadly to others.

White House Guidelines (whitehouse.gov) propose a three-phase approach based on the advice of public health experts. Decisions to reopen services should be based on science with up-to-date data, aim to mitigate risk of resurgence, protect the most vulnerable, and should be implemented on a county-by-county basis. Specifically, there should be a downward trajectory of Covid19 illnesses within a 14-day period, a flattening of the curve, and massive testing for at-risk workers and vulnerable people.

Guidelines are necessary and helpful, but only to the degree that individuals choose to observe them. Human brains have an emotional and a logical side. Each time we make a choice, emotions and logic struggle for dominance. The problem is that individuals don’t always make decisions based on logic. It is said that emotions dictate 80% of the choices Americans make, while practicality and objectivity only represent about 20% of decision making. Emotional reasoning is based on self-interest. Data driven decisions are entirely logical. Feeling safe is not the same thing as being safe.

So, how do we manage our emotions while abiding by restrictions? Most of us can’t tolerate discomfort for even short periods of time. We avoid, ignore, resist or run away from our pain. Finding ways to sit with discomfort is an essential skill. Learning to be comfortable while being uncomfortable is a learned art. People who accept discomfort in life move through it faster rather than individuals who resist it. Nowhere is this truer than in the Covid19 spread. If we resist safety protections, we will see a new wave of infection. Stay true to restrictions and the spread will slow. It is a challenge, however. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your discomfort

Eager to Reopen the Shutdown?

Patience with Covid-19 restrictions is wearing thin. Groups of people are protesting to open up restrictions. Trump has repeatedly called for an early return to normalcy as virus-related closings have had a crushing effect on American workers and businesses. In Annapolis, MD, hundreds of people filled the streets last week to demand the governor lift restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. The same is true in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia where large groups of people are not maintaining social distance or wearing face masks.

Others have said that lifting restrictions prematurely will only prolong the pandemic. So, what’s going on here? Why do some people strictly observe restrictions, while others purposefully flaunt social distance and virus protection measures?

Some people are selfishly seeking their own pleasure, such as students filling beaches during what should have been their spring break. Youth tend to be focused on me and mine, and are not always sensitive to the consequences of their behavior on larger social networks. It is the nature of youth to perceive that nothing bad will ever happen to them. They lack life experience to teach them otherwise. But what about others?

  • Some people have little attachment to the life or death outcome of this pandemic. “When it’s my time to go, God’s going to call me home.”
  • Others believe their risk of death is no more likely than dying from a common influenza, and the experience of Covid-19 is no worse than flu-like symptoms.
  • Some minimize the risk, because after all, isn’t life inherently filled with risk?
  • Many people don’t trust scientists or doctors. Conspiracy theories are flourishing.
  • Some people perceive the pandemic is starting to wane, and may have a false sense of security.
  • Others bristle at having their individual freedoms restricted for the collective good. What if these temporary restrictions open the gates to permanent loss of individual rights?
  • And of course, there is a small percentage of people who believe the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax.

However, it seems that the majority of protesters are primarily concerned about the economic impact to their lives. Protesters chant “Let us work!” Some protesters believe the shutdown is making things worse for larger numbers of people. The shutdowns may save lives while losing livelihoods. At best, they hope to reopen businesses and provide protections simultaneously. “We don’t think that there’s any reason we can’t protect the elderly and the vulnerable from this virus and still get our small businesses back up to work” said Paul Brockman with Reopen Maryland.

The people who are hardest hit need hope. “Give us a plan. Give some people hope. Give that small businessman hope that he could open up in a week or two or three or whatever it is. But they can’t stay closed forever,” Brockman said. These sound like the words of people who are devastated and demoralized. They see their lifestyle destroyed, with homelessness and hunger around the corner. Their basic needs for survival are threatened. They may think the potential consequences are more frightening than the small chances of a virus killing them.

In terms of Abraham Maslow’s ’Hierarchy of Needs’, large numbers of people have been knocked off higher level placement on the pyramid, to the bottom of the pyramid. Maslow’s hierarchy represents five categories of needs, with higher needs being dependent on the satisfaction of lower needs. If your lower needs are not met, then you are not in a position to fulfill your higher needs.

Picture a pyramid structure divided into 5 levels. The top level is Self-actualization – being the best version of oneself. The second tier is Esteem – the need to genuinely appreciate and respect oneself. The third tier is Love/belonging – the need to feel fully and unconditionally supported by another and doing the same for another. The fourth tier is Safety – the need to feel physically and emotionally safe from harm and genuine threats. The bottom, foundational tier is Physiological – our basic survival needs for food, water, shelter, warmth, or air are met.

Such an abrupt and unanticipated change from higher levels to lower level needs for survival, which we see with Covid-19, are extremely stressful. We are faced with a pandemic of unemployment. As people lose jobs, they also lose income, security and status. People in the bottom two tiers don’t know if they can survive.

For those of you who are struggling to survive, know that we care. You are seen and heard. And you are not alone. We will do our best to help you survive on a county, state and national level. But let’s also fight to stop the spread, thereby saving lives and other’s livelihoods. We can fight this together.