I’ve been looking for a particular quote to post here, and I’ve found it. My girlfriend first put me on to Alain de Botton and I think what he says here is particularly apt:
“Though anger seems a pessimistic response to a situation, it is at root a symptom of hope: the hope that the world can be better than it is. The man who shouts every time he loses his house keys is betraying a beautiful but rash faith in a universe in which keys never go astray. The woman who grows furious every time a politician breaks an election promise reveals a precariously utopian belief that elections do not involve deceit.
The news shouldn’t eliminate angry responses; but it should help us to be angry for the right reasons, to the right degree, for the right length of time – and as part of a constructive project.
And whenever this isn’t possible, then the news should help us with mourning the twisted nature of man and reconciling us to the difficulty of being able to imagine perfection while still not managing to secure it – for a range of stupid but nevertheless unbudgeable reasons.”
Like you, I feel very angry when people flout the lockdown rules. I’m self-isolating alone. My brother and sister live up in Leicester, 100 miles away, and my girlfriend lives in Hastings, 70 miles away. I haven’t seen any of them since before the lockdown began. Of course we do Zoom and talk on the phone. I’m lucky to have nice neighbours, and in the last couple of weeks I’ve been able to meet up for social distance walks with a friend from north London, but I’m still lonely. But I also care about containing the virus and saving lives, so I follow the guidelines and make the sacrifices. This makes it particularly galling when other people don’t. As de Botton implies, an optimist expects the best from people, and feels angry when others don’t make the same efforts that we do. And I think there’s something rather lovely about always expecting the best from people, about never giving up hope. We’d never have had Star Trek if Gene Roddenberry hadn’t been able to imagine a future in which humanity has overcome many of our current troubles, and Star Trek has inspired a generation of scientists.
Something else I read really brought me up short. I can’t remember which news website I copied this from but I found it surprising enough to copy and paste it into my notepad:
“Realize that social distancing in this way takes an incredible amount of self-control, and it is hard psychological work. Empathy and self-control can be exhausting. It takes a massive amount of creativity to constantly imagine that we are infected with an invisible pathogen when we go out for groceries…”
It was the last part that got me, about imagining the invisible pathogen. For me it’s effortless. If I were to imagine that everyone had six foot lizard tails, I would almost be able to see them, swishing about as people turned, knocking things over, getting trapped in doors. I honestly thought everyone could do that! But every day I meet people who seem to forget about keeping that 2 metre distance.
Think about it though - we’re people who create and play text adventures. We’re able to picture spaces in our minds - rooms that interconnect in complex ways, and within those rooms imaginary treasure chests containing extraordinary objects, and all in the medium of text! We see these spaces in our mind’s eye. Not everybody has that ability. Imagination is a super-power. It’s imagination that enables us to envisage that invisible pathogen, and it’s imagination that allows us to feel empathy, to put ourselves in someone else’s position. To remember those vulnerable people whose lives we may be endangering, people we don’t know, people we’ve never met. Because it’s second nature to us, it’s easy to forget that it doesn’t come easy to everyone. All we can do is try to have a little patience.
I’ve gone on a bit here, and as usual I have doused everything liberally with hyperbole but I hope there’s something useful in what I’ve said. Take care.