The German sociologist Hartmut Rosa has described our modern society as an increasingly accelerating circle, where we demand the world and all that it has to offer to be available and achievable. We strive to live fully and to collect experiences during our limited time here – the more, the better.
When personal attempts to hoard achievements are combined with our ever-accelerating society, we find ourselves entangled in quicksand. We need to try harder and harder, not in order to progress and to move forward, but to keep ourselves afloat and not sink deeper. Maintaining the privileges we have already gained, such as our standards of living and economic growth, demands that we constantly improve our achievements and increase our efficacy.
Yet suddenly we find ourselves dropped out of this rat race in the most unexpected and abrupt way. The coronavirus has contained us in our homes, shut the world that used to be open, and made our experience hoarding much more difficult.
The societal, economical, and humane consequences of this crisis should not be downplayed. However, this extraordinary time also offers us an opportunity to pause. Taking a moment to stop can help us reconnect with the personal values that are most meaningful to us.
We can start by observing the thoughts and feelings that this crisis has evoked in us. For some, it might be a relief when many of the everyday affairs that had felt mandatory have disappeared from our calendars. Strict timetables for hobbies have been cancelled and social distancing has freed us from keeping up contacts that had felt like obligations. These changes can make us realize the importance of taking care of our personal limits, of taking time for ourselves and for our families. For others, leaving a close-knit work community to work from home has increased loneliness and revealed the importance of everyday social contacts to our wellbeing.
Can these insights tell us something about our personal core values? Maybe social pressures had overwhelmed our own needs and boundaries. Maybe we had learned to see discussions with colleagues at work as mere distractions to our productivity and performance. The things you now realize to enjoy, or those you especially miss from the “old normal”, can reveal what is truly meaningful in your life.
How could we put this new understanding into practice in the future? When our leisure activities return and social contacts resume, can we set boundaries to support our own wellbeing? Can we prioritize mindful encounters with our colleagues at work, instead of mentally (or even practically) rushing towards the next task?
Rosa proposes that the counterforce to acceleration is resonance. This means acknowledging those moments when we feel a reciprocal connection between us and the world. These are moments when something touches us: a song, a landscape, or meeting another person. We react to this feeling of connectedness and reciprocity, and this shared experience changes us. Resonance can be depicted by an example where a goal-oriented, heartrate-monitored running exercise suddenly stops in the middle of the forest. You pause to notice how the sun brightens the fresh grass into a vibrant green, and you hear the blackbird sing in the nearby tree.
Only by pausing can we find time to question the status quo, and without questioning nothing changes. We cannot free ourselves from quicksand by treading harder. Instead, if we dare to float, the sand begins to carry us. As the world collectively seeks a safe way towards the new normal, I hope that this exceptional time of slowing down has provoked questions and reflections on our values and the actions that follow them – at both the individual and societal level.
Mari Huhtala, Senior Researcher, Department of Psychology, title of docent in work and organizational psychology
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