In this classic scene from Shawshank Redemption, Red struggles with the adjustment to life outside of prison. Behavior like this is common with people who have been imprisoned for long periods of time.
At about the one-minute mark, while working in a grocery store, Morgan’s character asks his supervisor for a restroom break. The manager pulls Red aside and reminds him he doesn’t have to keep asking every time he needs to relieve himself.
After 40 years in prison, I can understand the mindset a former prisoner might have-being told what to do in almost every aspect of his life. What I have trouble understanding in 2021 is the sense of learned helplessness I see in too many people one year after the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Learned helplessness was first coined in the 1960s by the American psychologists Martin E.P. Seligman and Steven F. Maier. When they were graduate students, they researched animal behavior. When dogs received electrical shocks they couldn’t control, they learned that they later showed signs of anxiety and depression. The dogs who learned that they couldn’t escape the shock stopped trying in subsequent experiments. This occurred even when the dogs learned they could end the shocks by pressing a lever. Furthermore, the researchers learned that the dogs who received the uncontrollable shocks in the first experiment didn’t even try to escape shocks in a later one-even though all they needed to do, was jump a low barrier.
I see this with humans all around me now. As I drive around New York City, I see an entire population affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. It is a sight to behold. 99.9% of people who are walking around outside alone, with no one around them, in masks. Many have even said, at least online, they will continue to do so, even after being fully vaccinated. What will it take to break people out of the fog they are under? People believe that nothing will end their suffering — or maybe they enjoy the conditions they live under.
The idea that even after a full vaccination, people will continue to wear masks, socially distance, and not be around loved ones is perplexing. What are people waiting for?
I read an opinion piece in the Washington Post by Lucy McBride titled; I’ve been yearning for an end to the pandemic. Now that it’s here, I’m a little afraid. She is a perfect example of learned helplessness.
“Month after month, we have been yearning to be done with enforced distancing, social isolation, and life in a more virtual reality. Now that the moment has arrived — as millions of Americans have been vaccinated and millions more will soon roll up their sleeves for it — the prospect is oddly disconcerting.” “Conditioned to stay home and to distance from others, they often express disbelief when I assure them that, once vaccinated, they can hug loved ones, dine indoors and even gather, unmasked, with another household of unvaccinated people.”
“Pre-covid, my teenage kids talked about FOMO, a Fear Of Missing Out. But upon reentry, many of us will face something new: FONO, or a Fear Of Normal.”
She correctly points out,
“The science is clear. The vaccines protect us from illness and help prevent transmission, too. They will allow us to reconnect with loved ones and to resume in-person school, work and worship without fear.
Most Americans haven’t lived in fear for many months. The sentiment expressed in opinion pieces like this is often shared in media, entertainment, and government centers. Outside of the Northeast and more liberal communities, people aren’t living in constant fear. But, it appears that those in government want to keep people off-balance, confused, and paralyzed. FONO is a foreign concept for most of the country.
President Biden addressed the nation and said,
“ If we do our part… by July 4, there’s a good chance you, your families, and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day… Small groups will be able to get together”.
“Because even if we devote every resource, we have, beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity. And national unity isn’t just how politics and politicians vote in Washington and what the loudest voices say on cable or online.” “Unity is what we do together as fellow Americans. Because if we don’t stay vigilant and the conditions change, then we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track. And please, we don’t want to do that again. We’ve made so much progress. This is not the time to let up.”
Wait, he actually said, “we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track.” That’s never good. There’s nothing more permanent than a temporary government program. Remember 15 days to flatten the curve? Wear a mask for the first 100 days of his presidency?
And who exactly is this “we” he refers to? “We” may have to reinstate restrictions? Unlike his predecessor, President Biden knows the limits of federal power. He can’t lock down states. He also can’t force residents of any state to wear masks indoors or outdoors unless it’s on federal property.
Unity? No, we’re not in this together. We never were, and we never will be.
Fewer people are listening to elected and unelected officials when it comes to COVID-19 guidelines. With an increasing number of inoculations, a decreasing number of citizens are paying attention to the constantly moving goalposts and nonsensical mandates handed down by certain governors. People should push back against any suggestion of any new restrictions. There is absolutely no need for them as more people choose to get COVID vaccines.
Learned helplessness can be overcome by practicing independence and self-reliance, self-worth, and self-compassion-and using common sense. We should be engaging in activities that restore self-control. We rarely listened to the CDC before March of 2020; why do so many people rely on them now?
I’ve decided to live my life with learned hopefulness. I’m a cautious optimist. Since May of 2020, I’ve ignored what health professionals have said. I’ve traveled, eaten indoors, spent time with friends and family at cookouts, went to parties, and have enjoyed life as much as I could do with the arbitrary restrictions I had to deal with. I already have plans for more trips in 2021. Getting out of the house and enjoying the one life I have is good for my mental and physical well-being. Health is more than the absence of disease.
In the movie clip above, Red says, “All I want is to be back where things made sense. Where I won’t have to be afraid all the time.” Fear is a powerful motivator. It’s also a great way to control others and remain controlled.
It might take longer for some people to adjust to a return of the old normal in certain parts of the country. And that’s ok. We should allow people who have experienced trauma to process things in their own way, at their own pace. We need to give them space to re-enter society in the way they so choose.
What I find disconcerting is the number of people who want to shame others for living a full and joyful life. We should push back on the relentless pessimism and never-ending moving of the goalposts.
I see too many living in an imprisoned mindset. They don’t seem to understand they have agency. Too many people living like Red.
Waiting for “guidance” from the CDC or President Biden on how to live your life, especially after you are vaccinated, is analogous to asking for a restroom break.
Clayton Craddock is an independent thinker, father of two beautiful children in New York City. He is the drummer of the hit broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Howard University’s School of Business and is a 28 year veteran of the fast-paced New York City music scene. He has played drums in several hit broadway and off-broadway musicals, including “Tick, tick…BOOM!, Altar Boyz, Memphis The Musical, and Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill. Also, Clayton has worked on: Footloose, Motown, The Color Purple, Rent, Little Shop of Horrors, Spongebob Squarepants, The Musical, Evita, Cats, and Avenue Q.
Originally published at https://claytoncraddock.substack.com.