One of the first things I noticed about people when I started my informal psychological studies of them as a teenager, was that angry people are often frightened people trying to regain control.
Someone added me to a local Coronavirus Support Group on social media this week. At first I thought, “That sounds great – communities supporting each other to make sure everyone gets what they need,” and that was certainly a theme, but 99% of posts were people angry at someone else.
There were the inevitable posts of people angry about other people buying loo roll. There were the people angry about anyone panic buying. There were the people angry because other people were angry about other people buying food. There were people angry because they always use home deliveries for their grocery shops and there weren’t any free. There were people who needed to use home delivery for the first time due to isolating who were angry about not being able to book a slot.
There were people angry about the fact that so much fuss was being made. There were people angry about people not making enough fuss. There were people angry about being told not to go to the pub. There were people angry at those who went to the pub anyway. There were people angry about what they thought the data was suggesting. And people angry about how many people don’t understand data. There were people angry about the government’s lack of action. There were people angry that the schools weren’t shut yet. When the schools shut there were people angry with the lack of warning.
There were people angry about not knowing if they could walk their dog or not. There were people angry about it being suggested they shouldn’t meet up with their toddler group. There were people angry that other people couldn’t see how toddler groups might spread contagion. There were people angry that young people seemed to be taking it all more seriously than old people and how this was a sign of how awful the youth of today are. There were people angry about how those people who are older and at higher risk of needing care were not taking things seriously and were going to collapse the NHS.
And that was only a quick scroll through. I left the group when I saw a post put up by someone who was at once condemning the selfishness of panic-buyers, whilst complaining she had been on hold to 111 for ages because her child had a slight cough. She was being egged on by a swathe of comments to call her GP or keep trying, instead of being reminded that 111 was now for those with severe issues. I couldn’t help but wonder who couldn’t get through when they needed to because of so many scared, angry people desperate for something to control.
The thing is, it’s easy to find someone to be angry at and I really don’t blame anyone for feeling angry at the moment. You can be angry at me if you’d like. Anger can be a really useful emotion to get things done – I’ve used it after breakups to energise myself into incredible feats of change and action – but it’s also hugely draining. Anger is an emotion you can’t keep up for long without feeling exhausted.
People like to choose to be angry instead of frightened. I’ve met many a scared person who leaps to fight instead of flight. Right now there is a huge reason to feel frightened, but no enemy to battle. We must choose to slink away and hide in our caves in order to defeat it, and that feels like giving in, when really it is the greatest act of bravery the world has ever been asked to be a part of.
I am not trained medically. I can’t help on that front. All I can do is to try to make sure that the services we so desperately need right now are not overwhelmed. The action I can perform to do this is to limit how many people I interact with, and make sure I keep my distance and wash my hands often. I can take control of this and help. This isn’t doing nothing, this is actively supporting our health care professionals in the only way that we can.
None of this is easy. It’s upsetting when people are upset by it and upsetting when they’re blasé. People need each other right now, in new and distanced ways. We are an adaptable species, we can find a way into this new way of doing things.
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