The second of a series of four blogs by Creative Coach Auriel Majumdar exploring the impact of Coronavirus.
Written in real time over April and May 2020 they look at how the new reality is affecting us as individuals and those around us. Each blog also gives tried and tested practical strategies that help us navigate the way forward.
As I write, a further three weeks of lockdown has been announced and the news is full of speculation about the timescales for development of a vaccine that will allow us to move about freely once again. For the time being at least we continue to live our separate lives locked down in the face of the global crisis.
Now we’re past the initial strangeness of lockdown and social isolation, I’m noticing that I’m slowing down and focusing on my physical comforts more than ever before. Cooking lovely meals, organising the house and gardening have been bringing me a great deal of comfort lately and if my Instagram feed is anything to go by, these kinds of activities seem to be occupying many other people too. Why might this be I wonder?
In this second blog in a series of real-time reflections on living through the pandemic I’ll be taking a look at how psychological theories of motivation might help us understand our own responses and the behaviour of those around us.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs...plus WiFi
Most people are familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs which suggests that we must satisfy a set of needs, starting with the most basic survival needs for food and shelter, before moving up the pyramid towards the drive to self-actualise. Perhaps my return to the kitchen is fulfilling some primal need to keep my family fed and sheltered?
A few years ago, some bright spark added WiFi to the foundation of the pyramid and while the resulting meme might have raised a knowing smile then, now it seems to have predicted this strange situation we’re all in. Anyone who is trying to work online in a house with other people who are all streaming will tell you that access to the internet is sometimes more important than what’s for lunch!
The American psychologist Alderfer took Maslow’s work and condensed it into three simpler categories of need: Existence, Relatedness and Growth. I’ll look at the first two here and return to our need for Growth in a later blog.
Existence needs are the material and physical things we need to be safe and well. When the pandemic first hit our shores and people began to panic-buy, I questioned whether this behaviour was driven by this basic need to make sure that there’s enough? As if a cupboard full of baked beans and toilet roll was acting as a talisman against danger. This might sound fanciful but it’s still true that when emergencies strike, thoughts turn first to safety, having a roof over our heads and enough to eat. For some people, shelter, warmth and food are not certainties and fulfilling these needs becomes all-consuming.
We should remain mindful that the opportunity to think about relatedness and growth is a privilege that not everyone shares.
Relatedness needs are all about relationships with significant others like family, friends, co-workers and communities. They include the need to be recognised and feel secure as part of a group. I think this is the driver that is really kicking in for many of us now.
Like many other people, I’m currently part of a street WhatsApp group that has over 120 members. While the group is somewhat of a mixed blessing (I never want to see another funny dog video again!) it certainly meets my need to feel connected to my local neighbourhood and know that I can help others and that they will help me in turn. Through our group I have been able to support families who are isolating, we have identified and supported our elderly and vulnerable neighbours and we regularly share information, tips and moral support. The rapid growth in online pub quizzes and social meet-ups are driven by the same motivation - to connect and be helpful, to be part of something that is beyond than our individual lives.
The need to play our part in responding to the pandemic crisis also falls into this category. There has been a great outpouring of support for our frontline workers, NHS and care workers in particular and the Thursday night ‘Clap for Carer’s’ events have been a moving manifestation of this desire to come together to show appreciation and gratitude. Perhaps by clapping for others we’re showing our need to be part of some communal effort.
This might also explain the rise in charitable donations during the pandemic. The story of Captain Tom Moore is well known by now and as I write he has raised an astounding £27 million through his efforts. It does make me wonder what it is about the national psyche that needs to respond in this way though?
As with the basic need for WiFi, I’m certain that it comes back to our drive to be connected, our craving for human contact, to be part of a movement, to establish a sense of agency in a situation that has robbed us of our independence.
Truly being part of something however takes more than clapping and financial contribution or online socials, it’s about meaningful connection with others. I can’t talk about connection without pointing you to the work of Brené Brown whose TED talk has now been watched a phenomenal 48 million times. She defines connection as:
‘the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship’.
Now like never before we have the opportunity to connect around the things that matter, the universal need to be safe and to be part of shared community effort. But if true connection means really seeing, hearing and valuing each other, how do we do this when all we have is an internet connection or a wave across the street on a Thursday evening? Giving and receiving without judgement is a tough ask and requires us to be able to take the other’s point of view even if we disagree.
Imagine the revolution that might occur if the communities we’re creating now could endure beyond the pandemic. Taking a step back and considering people’s needs alongside our own might help us here – as the management guru Steven Covey advises"If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
Aurel Majumdar, Creative Coach