It’s getting more and more difficult to maintain a positive attitude as we watch society seeming to crumble around us. Fear, anger, insecurity, depression all take their toll on us. How does one engender hope amidst such turmoil?
David Eagleman, a well-known American neuroscientist, spoke in an interview about this in an interesting way. He says that the brain functions best when being in a space between familiarity and novelty. This is where it seeks to create new neural pathways that make sense of and respond to what is to come. He said, “It knocks us all off our hamster wheels, of doing things in a particular way, and forces everyone to think of new ways of doing things.”
We know that the early learning of a child until about age six is the establishment of neural pathways in response to the world in which s/he lives and reacts. Much of the basic personality and worldview of the child is formed during these years. The adjustment of our brains continues throughout our lives.
Eagleman went on to say that we are not the same person at different moments in time and we can make contracts with our future selves in a way that’s really useful, such as throwing away a cookie now so I won’t eat it later..
This idea stimulated my brain to begin whirring around about the possibilities that this knowledge lays out before us during the escalating world crisis in which we find ourselves. We are faced with multiple natural disasters, failure of all our societal institutions, political and social disruptions and on top of it a pandemic that has taken us out of the flow of our lives.
It is clear that when the coronavirus fades away, we will have many pieces to pick up, and while existing in a stagnant state of quarantine, we can only imagine putting them back together as they were before. But there’s no learning curve in that, no opportunity to create new neural pathways born out of fresh viewpoints and new ideas.
Our current state is a grim one. Every part of our society—from families to international relations—is sick with the disease of broken relationships with each other. We’ve lost connection with a nature that is interdependent and interconnected and of which we are an integral part. Coronavirus is the result, not the cause, of our illness and this shattering is what needs to be corrected if we are to survive on this planet.
Coronaviruses typically last for about two years before they fade away. This means that we have more than a year to jump off the hamster wheel and rethink the structure of our society.
So how do we take advantage of this state of being between familiarity and novelty? Much of what is familiar to us can be used to build a new world that works for everyone, that is, one where connection and love for others prevails. We already understand, through being separated from each other in quarantine, how important are our human relationships. There is an upsurge in neighborliness, compassion, feeling the sorrow of others and a desire to help others in need. These are basic values for a new world.
Take some time to imagine a world where the family is again its basic and strongest unit, where the principle of loving one another is practiced in education, in industry, in international relations, where government truly is by and for the people, where all efforts are toward the connection, happiness and productivity of mankind without seeking personal gain. Picture the ideal and then picture it better and higher and more beautiful. Depict this within yourself until you can feel your brain bursting with new pathways and energy.
Once you have that firmly inside yourself, practice it in all your affairs. Make it happen because you, a millions of others, know this is the solution to the world crisis. External actions are born out of internal convictions. We must do this for ourselves because governments and institutions will not, and we outnumber them by billions. By doing this, we the people will be aligning ourselves with the laws of nature, and she will calm down because we have heeded her message: we are interconnected and interdependent and we need to act like it.