CEO at Advanced Intelligent Systems, a practical autonomous robotics company with software and hardware modules.
There seems to be a lot of discord around the world. One thing that almost everyone agrees about, though, is that 2020 was a stressful year. Has there ever been a more welcome sight than a brand-new calendar with “2021” printed at the top? Is there anything more heartening these days than stories of people demonstrating kindness toward those who struggle with fears of Covid-19 and its fallout?
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented kindnesses. Kindness is good for the soul. What’s more, kindness helps to improve bodily health for both the giver and the receiver.
Sometimes, though, people neglect kind acts — even simple thoughtfulness — when their own survival is at risk. History books and literature tell stories of “man’s inhumanity toward man” amid stressful circumstances that seemed to portend death for those whose will to survive was lacking.
Our Actions Define Us
Stress itself doesn’t kill anyone, but our reactions to stressful situations can sometimes do great harm. One person under stress might perform acts that appear miraculous and benevolent, while the same stresses might compel someone else to commit atrocities. The way that each of us perceives stress and its potential for causing damage becomes a catalyst for their subsequent actions.
As an analogy and an example of different reactions to different perceptions of stressful situations, consider the often conflated emotions of jealousy and envy.
As Aristotle is often quoted as having said, “Jealousy is both reasonable and belongs to reasonable men, while envy is base and belongs to the base, for the one makes himself get good things by jealousy, while the other does not allow his neighbour to have them through envy.”
It isn’t difficult to confuse a self-interested action with a selfish action. One’s self-interest aligns well with the self-interest of others. Being selfish, on the other hand, implies losing rationality and with it a genuine sense of self. A selfish person often becomes obsessed with an unhealthy perception that others don’t do enough to relieve them of their stress.
Animals experiencing stress undergo a fight-flight-freeze response. Whenever someone perceives that they’re facing imminent danger, they might become like a wolverine defending itself from an aggressive bear, a bird taking wing to escape a charging house cat or a deer in the headlights.
What happens if a perceived threat is so small as to be invisible? Is there an objective, rational response to something that can’t be fought or evaded in a traditional sense? Are people frozen in the headlights of oncoming pathogens, or do they rally together and do what needs to be done?
In recent months, the lockdown reaction to Covid-19 has been damaging livelihoods and health. Loneliness and depression have turned out to be parallel pandemics that remain largely overlooked. An alarming number of people have been taking their own lives, and the people who try to talk them out of potentially dangerous behavior are themselves becoming desperate.
Along with the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 might be remembered as a year of widespread isolation, self-harm and domestic tragedy. Substance abuse is up, as is violent crime — but on the other hand, so is entrepreneurial activity.
Seniors appear to be taking the brunt of Covid-19’s fury, although innovative ideas are encouraging younger people to show that they care. Foremost on many adult minds are two related questions: Will this coronavirus be around forever in one form or another, and when will all the restrictions finally end?
After The Pandemic
Some people have become less social during the first year of Covid-19. Others have come together to produce new miracles.
In truth, it’s too early to know one way or another whether society has transformed as a result of Covid-19 and our early reactions to it. Around the world, our most basic emotional needs remain feeling safe, cared for and loved. Every chance to pursue personal or economic growth stems from such fundamental security.
There exists a saying about the inability to demonstrate love toward anyone without first knowing self-love. What is self-love, though? Is it self-esteem? Is it self-respect? Is it those things and more?
Perhaps genuine self-love, like all love, must be unconditional. Having self-esteem and self-respect might be important for psychological health, but maybe it’s just as important to feel love — and feel loved — when some or all those other things seem to be lacking.
Caring for oneself is being kind to oneself, and kindness is one of love’s pillars. An antidote to self-harm is self-care, so any analysis of Covid-19’s effect on society must start there. Care for yourself. Be kind to yourself, and then your kindness will go viral to help those who continue to suffer. If enough of us do that, acting with sincere self-interest, future generations might look back and thank their 21st-century ancestors for establishing an era of sustained mutual aid and cooperation.
With the effects of Covid-19 and the closure of offices, specifically in the tech sector, caring and being kind to ourselves can boost productivity and motivation. We are social creatures, and now we are caged in our home offices. Tech leaders and executives should ensure they convey a culture of self-care in order to keep their team members in a happy and performing mood.