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We're all freaking out a little, and when we're not aware of that we unintentionally amplify each other's fear

The title kind of says it all, but maybe it'll help to substantiate it.

I've noticed "emotional weather" in many social contexts, where commonly known incidents - negative or positive - have cultural ripples, in which people tend to "infect" one another with brightness or dismay, tension or ease, whatever it might be depending on the circumstances. Actual weather, like the first warm sunny days of Spring or extended gray and chill in winter, can have ripples like I mean. Cultural events, like unexpected gestures of deep decency or diplomatic crisis and breakdowns, or the release of a new album by a beloved group. Whatever kind of thing it might be, all these things can lead to a small undercurrent of emotion in many people, and the mutuality of these small changes can register between them, reinforcing the sense of ease or unease, all without the people experiencing them explicitly recognizing that it's happening.

One context where I get to explore glimpses of this is in leading the DC Sunday Jam Underscore. What I notice is that people arrive and do their individual warm-ups and launch into the score, sometimes with similar tenor. Maybe it's liveliness or maybe solemnity, or something altogether else. I often can't identify it, but have the feeling that there's some character to the group "mood", even though they – we – didn't arrive together, or particularly interact before the score started. Instead, it seems to me that we're all subject to some shared influences, and we're responding to them. Our interactions with others, who are also responding to these conditions, will reinforce some things that just exist as undercurrents, subliminal colorings of our emotional states.

How this can effect things in the course of the Underscore is a great opportunity to convey the point that the particular initial factors - the precipitating incidents or prevailing conditions which planted the seeds of the colorings - need not be explicitly present in any way for their effects to emerge and amplify. The Underscore is a collaborative movement improv score, conducted specifically without chatting, because that is a different score which tends to distract from the focus on mutual correspondence through movement. Yet the tenor of the emotional undercurrents still have plenty of opportunities to enter into the activity by the character of the movement and the ways that people respond to each other, resonating with some character and not with others.

It makes perfect sense to me that this kind of resonance process is going on in all kinds of shared spaces, whether it's the street or the supermarket. We don't need to talk to influence one another. There's so many ways that someone's mood affects how they respond to and otherwise interact with others, and that in turn affects and informs their behavior. Factor in shared conditions – circumstances that affect many people – and you can see how the affects they have on mood are particularly prone to resonate between them, and consequently amplify.

The substantiality and ominous uncertainty of COVID-19 is why I'm mentioning this right now. It's bound to make almost everyone nervous. (Even the name is techno-viral spooky!) The universality is bound to lead to lots of resonance, and the amplification can be alarming. "I know I'm nervous about this, but why am I feeling so shaky?" The trick is to not get freaked out by the fact that these undercurrents are resonating and amplifying. It's the fear of the fear that can make it seem like things are getting out of control, when they're actually not. There's reason to be nervous, but freaking out is usually not helpful. (Sometimes it's just the right thing to do, but it's not good for sustained periods!)

It's time to take care, and be careful. But taking care means being gentle with yourself, not stoking your fear unnecessarily.

My sister, Lisa, brought the Serenity Prayer to everyone's attention when a few members of our family were contending with some very serious health issues at the same time. It was a brilliant move, helping to spread the message of calm without disregard, and I can't imagine a tension-prone situation where it's not useful:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.


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