We are all so tired of this never-ending story: COVID, the pandemic, active case counts and new infections, hospital staff shortages, mask requirements and rules that do or do not make any sense and change on an almost daily basis.
This week, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center went back to shutting down buildings and sending people home to work from their bedrooms, dining tables and home offices on lap tops, meeting on Google or Zoom platforms and trying to do their jobs while juggling home life with whatever that includes for each individual.
The only exceptions are those people who care for the basic needs of the animals in captivity — making sure they have clean water, the right temperature and food.
I am no psychologist, but I am interested in some of the concepts trying to make sense of human reactions, emotions and behavior. In the process of finding my own path through the conflicts of working from home while juggling several jobs and tasks I came across the concept of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs and Motivations.
There is a compact version of the original concept, which is summarized as a pyramid with five levels. At the base there are the physiological needs of food and water, and a place to be and survive: the very needs that are also kept up by the remaining staff allowed to enter the Fisheries Research Center for those crabs and fish living there that know nothing of COVID.
The second level of the pyramid is safety: the home, the physical and financial security. From there it goes into the emotional needs of belonging and love, the need to feel a sense of esteem, of being part of and accomplishing something, and finally self-actualization, where we ask ourselves what we are here for and what footprint we are to leave behind on this world. The higher levels are also referred to as the growth levels.
People generally have to tend to the lower levels of the pyramid first. But our needs and motivations are not fulfilled in a linear fashion moving from bottom to top, but rather a little bit of each level at all times with a focus on the next higher level when we are satiated with the last.
A person who is well fed and housed and safe at home, but lonely, may feel their most pressing need to be part of a group or find love. However, that does not mean they are not also concerned with their accomplishments in their professional or spiritual life and think about the bigger picture of where the world is headed.
While government officials struggle to keep people safe from COVID infections and try to keep us apart from each other, it leaves us with a deficit of social interactions, group situations to boost self-esteem and well-oiled networks in which to operate toward our self-declared goals in life.
The Atlantic, a magazine of which I admit I had never heard of until today, published an article in March 2020 coining the term “social recession.” A social recession is explained as “a fraying of social bonds that further unravel the longer we go without human interaction.”
While I ponder the further-reaching effects of a mass mental crisis on world politics and progress, which provides another cause for anxiety, the perpetual optimist in me comes out. Every good crisis has some positive outfall. Everyone I talk to can find some positive aspect of corona isolation: a new hobby or interest discovered, the silence required for deep contemplation or artistic expression, or the intensification of the few relationships that remain.
Even optimism can have a catch: Being an optimist means that one always looks for the good in a situation, or at least looks for possible good outcomes. Thus, an optimist battered with ongoing and somewhat perpetual bad news may eventually break down, because maintaining this mental shield of the good in every situation requires a lot of mental energy.
The pessimist, on the other hand, maintains the view that life sucks and will continue to do so, mostly. He or she takes another dose of bad news to validate that concept and is not particularly shaken. Good news is not perceived with much excitement because there is an expectation that more bad news is to follow. In a way, the ongoing pandemic plays into the hands of the pessimist because that person has the privilege of saying, “I told you so.”
Everyone who is still reading knows that my columns always end on an optimistic note, because I live on an amazing planet and deeply care about the magnificence and diversity of life I am surrounded by.
Remember, the worthiest tasks are the ones you are not expected to finish but may never put down — remaining connected with each other in these times, keeping a watchful eye on each other, our environment, and what is going on in politics, and taking care of the basics of Maslow’s pyramid while working on the top levels.
No more and no less is what we can all do. Just because there is a sickness surging, we cannot give up on this planet, our environment and on what is important in life. Go on and be amazing, whatever that means for you!
That said, I promise that the next article will again be about marine science. Teaching people about the ocean and the amazing life therein so that they will become empowered as environmental stewards is what the top levels of the pyramid mean for me.