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9 April 2020

Retaining our new ability to feel

Written by
Nicolai Tillisch

“Dad, during this holiday…” that’s how our nine-year-old Axel started a sentence referring to our lockdown-motivated isolation, now in its fourth week. For Axel, a holiday means that Mum and Dad are around and that we do stuff together as a family. This is happening, but between online homeschooling and his parents spending consecutive hours on video conferences. Evidently, Axel and his sister, who is older by two years, are growing up without many of the weighty concerns that so many other youngsters are experiencing during the unfolding pandemic—and that’s probably the case for most children of the people reading Cultivating Leadership’s blog.

Irrespective, it’s natural that we, as adults, are deeply worried about our own health and stability, and the well-being of our relatives, friends, colleagues, and fellow humans more widely. Over the first months of this year, more aspects of my emotional register have changed more quickly than ever before (starting with the deterioration in my father’s health and his passing away, which was unrelated to COVID-19).

I have noticed that many people are connecting differently. They are reaching out to check how others are doing, and conversations are tending to start more personally. That’s even the case among us men. Even men have feelings, which they are now openly sharing… The fact that suddenly most meetings are now being done by video conference makes that even more astonishing. Teleconferencing has previously been the arena for some of the dullest and most distracted conversations in human history.

Ida, my beloved wife, believes that what people are enduring now might help us, the adults, to change ourselves and our world for the better. Ida has worked for the World Wildlife Fund for more than a decade and has often been concerned about our reluctance to tackle climate change. COVID-19 is forcing us to pay better attention to each other and what we can do together. This capacity to feel closer to each other, despite the more distant separation, may serve humanity well after the worst of COVID-19 is over.

So how can we retain this enhanced ability to make sense of ourselves and each other? For example, it may be invaluable in helping Axel to feel that everyday life is much like a holiday and in persuading more of us to act as greater versions of ourselves. There is so much you could do to nurture your ability. Here are three super-practical and lockdown-friendly ideas.

One idea is to watch Inside Out, the Pixar movie from 2015, together with everyone in your household. Not only kids will enjoy it. The film plays out in 11-year-old Riley’s head, where five characters manage Riley, working with and against each other around a big control board. These five are Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear, which were inspired by the primary emotions identified by neuroscientists. The movie is entertaining. But in addition to being entertaining, it introduces a vocabulary and a way of talking about feelings. It works for children as young as a few years old, as well as for adults several decades older. After seeing the movie, you should all be able to talk to each other more openly about your feelings. What you communicate with others exists more tangibly than what stays wandering around inside you.

If you, like us, have already watched Inside Out, then the series Inside Bill’s Brain on Netflix could serve as an alternative to family “hygge” and, at the same time, expand the social consciousness. Axel, his sister Margaux, and I have started watching this documentary together. Bribing with snacks is a part of the deal since the series targets more my age group than theirs. Anyway, I want my dear children to get a feel for the significant human problems that Bill and Melinda Gates are addressing through their philanthropy and their meticulous approach to it. This couple could buy all the “Lambos” (short for Lamborghinis) that a nine-year-old boy and his friends dream about, but instead they use much of their time and money doing good things for others. I’m keen to stimulate a conversation about this in our household.

The last of the three ideas is different and suited well for solitude. The idea is to write a journal about how you are making sense of what is going on. You could call it your “COVID-19 Diary.” Think about introducing a routine of writing for 15 minutes before you go to bed each night. You wonder differently about your wandering reflections when articulating and documenting them regularly. As you reread what you’ve written, you will be able to see patterns that would otherwise not be visible. You can reduce the risk of your thoughts circling without evolving. You will circumvent our incredibly poor memory of past feelings. Writing is a lovely way of momentarily stepping out of the world.

It takes an effort to change ourselves and our world for the better. The immediate circumstances seem to be helping, so why not make some aspects of the journey enjoyable?




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