Creativity or paralysis: Reflections on the threat and uncertainty of Covid-19

Covid-19. A name that seems a better-fit for a sci-fi thriller, where an alien life-form comes to wreak havoc. And this ‘alien’ menace is then dealt with by Ellen Ripley (from the movie Alien) or the MIB, who sweep in to deal with it and then eradicate it from our memories.

Except it isn’t.

It isn’t a bug from outer-space; and unlike other scary bugs from our recent past such as SARS, MERS, H1N1 and EBOLA, this bug has escaped the attempts to confine it. Within the space of a few short weeks, the rest of the world watched its ever-closer encroaching reality with an impending sense of inevitability.

Then it landed (almost literally). And we watched as the number of infections snowballed across South Africa. Schools were closed early, people were asked to keep their social distance and a national lockdown loomed as a growing figure in the background.

Bombarded by the reality, especially through media and social media platforms, spuing information both true and fake, was enough to overwhelm. People have reacted in numerous ways. There’s been the panic buying and irrational stockpiling of food and toilet paper. Denialism: “Ag this is not that serious. Isn’t it just like the common cold? Ja that’s what I heard. What’s all the fuss then?” Fantasy: “It’s a conspiracy man, it’s man made, escaped out of a lab somewhere.” The religious-informed needing to make sense of it: “It’s the judgement of God, it says so in the Bible, the plagues sweeping this evil world; we must just hide until the anger of God passes by.” And, sadly but hardly surprising, the greedy trying to make money.

It’s the locale of chaos and disorder, unsafe and uncertain. This is novel in more ways than one.

Oh but wait, a little perspective is neccessary. For far too many people in our country, and the world, the spectre of an unsafe and uncertain state of being is a daily lived reality. So often the choices, actions and/or behaviours of those trapped in such contexts have been judged as problematic. We need to realise that existential threat along with uncertainty often results in a suite of apparent irrational or unhelpful responses. These are, in essence, normal human reactions to the spectre of real threat.

Most, if not everyone, desire a world, a life that is both safe and certain. But this is not attainable, no matter how hard we as people have tried. It also leaves little room for movement.We do not know what tomorrow will bring, something that is a clear and present reality in our current experience. A question, asked by another in a different space, is: will uncertainty be a pathway to creativity or paralysis?

Paralysis is about stuckness, the inability to move or repeating the same patterns of behaviour, actions or processes used before. Whereas creativity is about being able to imagine and enacting alternative ways of being, of relating and doing. Whilst this most obviously is reflected in art, it also includes (re)designing our living spaces, activities and relationships, not just for us but for others, especially the most vulernable and marginalised.

To move beyond paralysis requires us to embrace uncertainty. BUT this embrace is only possible in the context of safety. Therefore, during this period crafting out safety within our residing spaces is an important process, not only for now but also beyond covid. These actions are not always within a person’s power to implement; and contexts are far from equal, making the attaining of such safety a much greater challenge.

A few value-based guidelines for crafting safety:

  • Daily routines and predictability
  • Mindfulness and self-regulation: this is not denying what we are feeling, instead it’s call to become aware of our feelings and manage our actions/responses and thus model it for those who may be in our care. So for me, one of the things i know will be an issue during lockdown is my inability to go for long runs, which is one of primary means for self-care. I will need to be alert to how this might affect me so that it doesn’t ‘spill’ on to my family.
  • Empathy and grace: for ourselves and those around us. This is connected to the previous point and it is especially about responding to negative actions/behaviours with compassion and understanding. Again for me this means recognising that my children’s fighting or annoyance is not only normal sibling issues but is also energised by the stress of the last few weeks. I therefore use these moments to help them become aware of their feelings and actions but also in not over-reacting myself to their tension. This means feelings aren’t judged but acknowledged.
  • Collaborative problem-solving: working with, to generate solutions to challenges and resolve conflicts, tensions.
  • Build/maintain connection: with self, with others.