Is Post-Pandemic Resocialization Needed?
Updated: May 20
I recently read an article about the astronomical increase of uncivil behavioral incidents from airlines passengers on flights. It revealed that over 1,300 passengers have been reported for "unruly behavior" on flights since February, according to FAA. We have all seen some of the shocking videos that have gone viral of passengers throwing tantrums and physically attacking flight attendants or fellow passengers. I would contend that these airplane cabin incidents of maladaptive behaviors are a microcosm of what is going on in society on a larger scale.
As someone who teaches mindfulness-based mental performance skills, I typically see the world through the lens of a mindfulness perspective. In other words, I realize that the Law of Impermanence teaches us that the nature of life itself is always in a state of flux or change. Paradoxically, the only constant in life is that there are no constants. While uncertainty seems to be the norm in our lives, it would be an understatement to say that some times seem "more uncertain" than others. We are currently living in one of these times.
If you think about it, our collective consciousness is fractured. The ideas, beliefs, and values that usually unite us are no longer doing so, because we are living during such turbulent fear-based times. We have been traumatized because of the pandemic, political divisiveness, racial division, and civil unrest in our society. Our copious consumption of social media platforms and the 24-hour news cycle, which propagate fear, make matters worse, as they heighten our levels of anxiety. Don't get me wrong. It has been a horrific year, as over half a million lives and have been lost to the pandemic, and there are many social ills in our nation than need to be fixed. However, there is a huge difference between "staying informed" and being glued to the news on our devices for hours at a time. To be fair, it is difficult to shut off this blitzkrieg of information that is constantly being hurled at us from all directions. As Yuval Noah Harari brilliantly noted: "In the past censorship was all about information being withheld. In the twenty-first century it now works by flooding people with tremendous amounts of irrelevant information."
Sadly, some of our most emotionally vulnerable members of society are the ones being manipulated by others on social media. We live in a world where cognitive biases reign supreme. If we do not agree with something in the news, we can flip the channel (or app) and find someone who agrees with our point of view. There is an old saying that rings true here: "Someone's perception is their reality." Nowadays many take this to the nth degree by declaring anything they don't agree with as "fake news."
Not only do we have what seems to be the biggest disconnect between people of differing opinions in our society than we have ever experienced, but the trauma and isolation from the pandemic have launched us headfirst into what experts are calling a mental health pandemic. Many individuals have become feral in their behavior, and others (such as the unruly airlines passengers) have become seemingly downright aggressive. The kind of stress we have encountered during the past year has done quite a number on our sympathetic nervous systems. Under this type of stress, the part of our brain called the amygdala prepares the body for the “fight or flight” response during any potential threatening situation, whether it is real or imagined. This explains some of the maladaptive behaviors we have seen in recent months. (Please note: This is not to excuse all anti-social behavior. Some people are just "not very good people" in any circumstances.)
As the pandemic seems to finally have an end in sight, and people are beginning to resume "normal" social activities, are we in need of some type of post-pandemic resocialization training, or will things sort themselves out? What can we do to facilitate more civil interactions in society? Is there hope for any semblance of normality in our future?
I have no answers here. I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website: www.greggraber.com