NEWS FLASH: We are NOT All in the Same Boat

We are NOT in the Same Boat

“We are all in this together.”

I’ve heard that about 48 thousand times this week, and each time I want to jump down the esophagus of the speaker and rip out his vocal cords. Usually, the words come out of an advertisers spiel trying to convince me that they really do love and care about me, the insinuation being that I should remember this affection when the world is no longer on fire. And then I should buy a Whopper.

Or perhaps it’s a coworker or salesperson’s well-meaning pep talk intended to bring a flare of joy and hope into the darkness of the days through her Zoom frame of absurdity. She’s taken full advantage of this “extra time” to master Mandarin, run thirteen miles each day, and fashioned a method to whittle driftwood into N-95 masks. Thanks for the rah-rah, Monica of the Square.

I get the intention, I do. And at some enlightened level, I guess I appreciate it. The message is “just keep going, little engine.” We are all in the same boat. This too shall pass. But through the placation and the platitudes, there is an underlying theme below the surface: Don’t feel bad. And while you’re not feeling bad, accomplish stuff.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a promoter of bad feelings. I hate them just as much as the next guy, and I’ve probably taken more dramatic measures to avoid them than he has. I’m also not a promoter of slacking off. Quite the opposite actually. What I am is a promoter of feelings in general, as well as our right to feel them and to have them validated — -especially in times of crisis like the current global audience participation shit show. I am at the very other end of an “enlightened level” right now. In fact, if my physical appearance is any indication, I’m very regressive. I wouldn’t be surprised if I woke up tomorrow with gills.

If you’ve ever taken a psychology class or trained as an educator or watched Jeopardy, you’ve heard of this framework of human motivation by Dr. Abraham Maslow called the Hierarchy of Needs***.

Dr. Maslow’s hierarchy looks like this:

Basically what the theory suggests is that the foundational needs at the bottom of the pyramid need to be met for people to be motivated to move up to the more advanced needs toward the top. The basic human needs of food and shelter and water and sleep are in that red zone at the bottom called “physiological needs.” The next level is “safety” and includes needs like security, economic stability, employment, and family.

Those of us who are teachers and have worked with at-risk students from backgrounds of poverty and trauma are well-versed in Maslow. It’s why we keep Goldfish crackers in our desks and blankets in our supply closets. Because we are not all in the same boat. Some of us are Huck Finn. Some of us are on a party barge with the crew from Jersey Shore. Some are on that boat from Jaws and, like them, need a bigger boat. Some of us are on the Carnival Dream, or were planning to be. Remember when that was a GOOD thing? Geez. The only boat that we are all on together right now feels like the Titanic.

Do you know even ONE person who isn’t worried at one of Maslow’s foundational levels right now? I don’t. People who were pirouetting around the tippy top of self-actualization and personal fulfillment are themselves struggling with a sudden onslaught of unpleasant feelings. Because stuff is SO HARD right now. And unpleasant feelings look different for everybody so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Heck, on any given day, my feelings are on a giant emotional Tilt-a-Whirl. You’ve been on one, right? It feels like this:

· Tilty Loop one….wave of sadness because I miss my family and my coworkers….leads to

· Tilty Loop two….wave of gratitude because my family is healthy and my job allows my coworkers and me to work from home….coming next

· Tilty Loop three….wave of panic because there will be massive budget cuts and the fact that my job allows me to work from home makes it seem less important. Side note- Whoever created the words “essential employment” needs a lesson in the impact of linguistics, like yesterday….segue ways into

· Tilty Loop four….wave of pressure because I should be force-creating something or leaping between tall buildings to prove that I’m actually working super hard and thus justify my “essentialness” when this is all over….opens the door for

· Tilty Loop five…wave of dread that this may NEVER be over and that this is the planet earth from here on out and I’ve never seen Santorini and now I never will… brings about

· Tilty Loop six…wave of de-escalation of pressure because I’ve got 25 years in the education system and if I lose my job, I can retire at any time and survive… surges into

· Tilty Loop seven….wave of terror that my retirement system will collapse and go bankrupt…spirals down

· Tilty Loop eight…. wave of relief because even if that does happen, we are in fields and have resumes that are highly employable and family that we can count on for help….which in turn brings on

· Tilty Loop nine….wave of guilt over recognition and acknowledgement of that privileged place that we are in when so many — — SO MANY — — are not.

Now, add in a healthy dose of anger, frustration, stress, anxiety, confusion, and disbelief at some of the actions, reactions, and distractions from those that we are supposed to trust. Douse it in polarization where every putz has a platform, and add any problem, issue, or concern that was plaguing people pre-COVID-19, including those who have experienced trauma at least once if not multiple times before, add another loop. It’s a loop that says no matter how much we heal, no matter how much good we pour out to balance the scales, no matter how hard we pray that we will get a pass on this one, the monster is always in the closet waiting to get us in the night. And it’s just when the blanket feels nice and snug around us and we fall into that really good sleep, and well… instead, we wake up and write a blog at 2:00 a.m. upending and confirming that we aren’t even at Maslow’s first physiological level of met needs.

What you get is grief. Cumulative grief. On a worldwide scale.

While there are obvious exceptions to the rule of Maslow’s hierarchy, the point is that until we are secure in our basic human needs for safety, comfort, and stability, none of us should be expected to achieve feats of greatness. Not children. Not parents. Not teachers. None of us. It’s fine to strive for some sort of routine and productivity, but people are scared and uncertain and worried and anxious. Let them work their way through that before jumping right to “don’t feel bad” and “keep going.”

I hope you didn’t read all the way to here expecting some kind of grand words of impeccable wisdom. The only thing I can offer at this point is permission to grieve. All of those feelings? COMPLETELY normal and expected and fine and explanatory. Got different ones than me? Yours are normal and expected and fine, too. There is no wrong way to feel. There are, of course, wrong ways to act on those feelings and very wrong steps to take to manage them, but that’s for another essay. The key is to give ourselves GRACE, isn’t it? And to offer the same grace to others. If you are in a position to make the most out of this quarantine with new skills and fitness levels, go ahead and carpe your diems. If all you cook is Hot Pockets and your toddler hasn’t worn clothes since Palm Sunday, I’m here to tell you that you too are doing it right. There’s no playbook here. Just be kind and mindful of others’ feelings, and if you are the one with the feelings, don’t take these things personally. And own your part once the feeling passes…..

So Burger King commercial guy, I’m sorry for the threat of violence. I know your concern goes deeper than the Quarter Pounder. And Monica, I’m sorry for the audible eye roll ( or 对不起 in your new tongue). I’m proud of you for your resilience and your contributions. And for the rest of you, on behalf of humankind, we absolve you from your guilt. We absolve you from your self-loathing. We absolve you from your inferiority complex. We are proud of you for getting up each day and doing your best. We love you. We support you. And we remove any expectation that any of us will come out of this unaffected, unchanged, or unscathed. Find someone to talk to, and if you can’t find someone, you can talk to me.

Let’s promise not to lose the lesson. Dr. Maslow is counting on us. And we need to count on each other.

***NOTE: For the 0.08% of my friends that will stop reading here because Maslow’s Hierarchy has been determined to be a psychometrical mess and therefore not valid in today’s industrial and organizational psychology, thanks for giving me this much of your time. I love you very much and I respect your brilliance. You’re too smart, though. Go read War and Peace in Russian for the next few minutes.***

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NEWS FLASH: We are NOT All in the Same Boat

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Leslie is a super fancy award-winning educator with more than 25 years experience and has taught students at every level from elementary through doctoral. She's tired. Her actual day job with benefits is to serve as the Executive Director of the Leadership Development Institute at Louisiana State University.

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