About being lost, belonging and kindnessFri 22 May 2020
A worldwide pandemic is changing us in ways we do not really understand or know how to explain it. Our comfort zone was abruptly swirled without permission, and we lost a sense of control over our way of being and living. We do not like it. We feel lost, somehow disconnected. Many of us are behaving, thinking, and feeling in ways that feel unfamiliar to us, which can be very unsettling. It is like being lost in a forest, trapped without knowing which way to go: ‘should I wait for a miraculous solution, turn back, or keep walking forwards?’. Some days feel like we are closer to a way out, or we may even feel brave enough to explore a new path and get excited about it; other days feel like we are alone and will never see beyond that forest.
Over the past two months, we quickly learned how to navigate a new forest of online learning and teaching, using ‘drones and geolocation’ apps (assuming our internet signal is good enough) as in a videogame with different levels of accomplishment. As human beings, we have an intrinsic tendency to seek novelty and challenge, to explore and to learn, to protect ourselves and others; our ability to adjust to adverse situations is remarkable. We are probably experiencing a gradual ability to adjust and manage this situation and find our way through that unknown forest. However, the ‘virtual reality’ we are all living in is not our reality as human beings.
Research has established that there is a universal set of psychological needs that are essential to our social functioning and personal wellbeing. They are autonomy, or feeling that we have choice and we are empowered; competence, feeling that we can find optimal challenges and deal effectively with our environments; and relatedness, which relates to the need for social interactions and a sense of belonging. The extent to which we feel our basic psychological needs are satisfied (or frustrated) has important consequences for learning, performance, personal experiences and psychological functioning. This pandemic has certainly affected our psychological needs and strongly impacted our motivation, productivity, and wellbeing.
We are all sharing our homes in this virtually oriented landscape, yet our sense of belonging is deeply affected. Our own public and private spaces are being redesigned. We ‘go home’ when we close the screen of a computer or end a video call, probably remaining in the same space. Our class ends and we are not staying behind having a chat or answering a quick question while leaving the room. The Zoom calls have a disturbing silence so unnatural of an educational setting. We are not seeing colleagues and students in the corridor or stopping to share a thought, a smile, or a hug. We are not saying ‘bye’ to someone taking the same bus or train on our way home whilst having unexpected conversations. Neither we are saying ‘morning!’ to the people in the reception and whoever is entering the building at that time, make us smile even if we are in a bad mood. Those were small gestures and acts of kindness in our ordinary days that would give us a sense of being connected, belonging, being part of a community, and that has changed indeterminately.
This week is Mental Health Awareness week and we are reminded to be kind. Being kind is a prosocial behaviour intended to benefit others and marked by the ability to feel concern and consideration for others. It is about sharing, comforting, cooperating, showing empathy and compassion for others. This behaviour naturally triggers a sense of connectedness and certainly requires courage and strength. It cannot be imposed, or it can backfire. It is an individual and organisational voluntary choice. The best thing of kindness: it is contagious! A recent study showed exactly that: being kind benefits both those who give and receive acts of kindness and has long-term effects. It is inspiring and make people feel more satisfied with their work and lives.
From a psychological perspective, this pandemic feels like being part of an experiment that would never get ethical approval to run and yet, it is happening. The cognitive, behavioural, social, and emotional impact of this pandemic at individual, organisational and societal levels is far from being understood, explained, anticipated, or managed. The psychological impact is unprecedented and cannot be underestimated. This is undoubtedly showing that we are more than human doings, we are human beings! So please, let us be kind to ourselves and others because we are all learning a new way of being.
Dr Araújo is a Programme Leader MSc and MFA in Dance Science and Senior lecturer in Performance Psychology (Music and Dance) at Trinity Laban.
Find out more about Dance Science on our study pages.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(3), 182.
Chancellor, J., Margolis, S., Jacobs Bao, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2018). Everyday prosociality in the workplace: The reinforcing benefits of giving, getting, and glimpsing. Emotion, 18(4), 507.