Mind Matters — Reframing 2020

Reframing is a tool of psychotherapy, particularly family therapy, in which you help a person see their problematic situation in a new light. Sometimes, the change of one word or a phrase can shift the perspective. I remember a colleague discussing with another colleague his concern about getting older and working less—he called that his withering. The astute listener responded “how about considering what you are doing as pruning, not withering?” That one word exchange was all it took to free up the prospects of a major life change as being a life affirming event.

So is there any reframing we could do with the year 2020? I have been considering this a year where the ground is laying fallow, and many of us are in hibernation mode. I don’t mean this in the sense that many of us are not working—in fact, many are working incredibly hard researching and creating vaccines, caring for the sick, growing our food, delivering our goods. Nevertheless, there ironically is a slowdown of society with music and art and drama events almost at a standstill. Sports events are empty occurrences. Practically the only activity any of us can do is take a walk, and even that was curtailed for a time and still has its limitations.

The fact that we aren’t hopping on planes for vacations to Disney World or wherever and aren’t in each other’s homes or lingering in restaurants feels like a sort of hibernation if not a throwback to an earlier time when people stayed put.

So my reframe look back on the year 2020 is how we can consider it to have been a time to lay fallow like a farm field, renewing its strength, or in modern parlance, like a reboot of our computer systems.

This is the pleasant reframe of 2020 that I would like to hold onto except that 2021 has already delivered a gut punch. The events of January 6 where insurrectionists attempted to overtake our Capital and overturn the results of a fair election may portend more trauma in 2021 than in 2020.

Why? In truth (I mean that literally), the pandemic and the insurrectionists do have a connection. The profligation of both COVID-19 and the fomenting of violence have a common root—and that is, the spread of misinformation.

Arthur Evans, PhD, Chief Executive Officer and Jennifer Kelly, PhD, president, of the American Psychological Association state: “Misinformation and conspiracy theories are at the root of … [the January 6th insurrection].” They note that despite every state having certified election results, and various courts validating the vote, repeated claims were made to the contrary. They remind us that we humans have a “propensity toward confirmation bias,” that is looking only for what supports our own viewpoint. Psychologists could help people find techniques to encourage more objectivity and fact finding. Evans and Kelly go on to say “the contrived propagation of mistruths fosters tribalism, outrage, and rancor, which prevents us as individuals from seeing our shared humanity and interests.”

Psychologists research who may be prone to believing misinformation. It is found that “conspiracy theories, including around COVID-19, receive more support from men than women.” Also paranoid ideation and distrust of authority are linked to belief in conspiratorial stories. Moreover, a “tendency to see the world as a threatening, nonrandom place without fixed definitions of morality” and with a lack of analytical judgment when faced with information also lends to conspiratorial belief systems.

So, truth be told, what will be the reframe of 2021?

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