The burden of people in positions of authority
Caring and taking responsibility in the time of corona can be difficult. When people in different positions of authority who believe that they have acted to the best of their knowledge and ability are blamed, they are likely to feel hurt and frustrated. When they are blamed repeatedly and come to expect this, people may well respond by building emotional walls, not allowing the blame to touch them. This makes serious listening impossible and has the potential to widen the rift between us (e.g. the government, mom) and them (e.g. the people, the children).
Authority figures, including political and business leaders, parents and professionals are, inevitably, recipients of people’s projections. This increases exponentially in times of crisis. It can be heard in comments such as: “the government/my boss/my mom is uncaring and is not taking charge!”; “they are interfering in our lives, curtailing our freedom, undermining our human rights”. This is not to argue that, whatever we say of authority figures is simply “in our own heads”. Of course, these statements may be true and accurate descriptions.
People in authority often know that they cannot please everybody all the time, so they learn to distance themselves from feedback. This is necessary if they are to survive psychologically and maintain their ability to act. But, in time, they may become deaf and blind to other views. We can all lessen the chances of others becoming hardened against feedback by questioning our own knee-jerk tendencies and by entertaining the possibility that “the other” may have a point.
Coping in uncertain times
A crisis like the one induced by the coronavirus undermines our illusion of certainty. What seemed predictable and served as the basis for our plans turns out to be shaky. We are faced with not-knowing and that is hard to bear. Uncertainty frequently induces fear. One coping strategy is to look for new certainties, often found in leaders who act autocratically. We may re-establish a sense of predictability by building new routines. Or we may rigidly cling to the certainties that are still available to us.
Avoiding the emotions, like fear and sadness, that come with uncertainty is another coping mechanism. This mechanism may be helpful in the midst of crisis but is detrimental in the long run. For instance, losses arising from a crisis need to be acknowledged, experienced and mourned. Then we can move on.