As we inched our way into the gym last weekend, past vaccination checks and metal detectors, to watch Stanford Men’s Volleyball in their second preseason tournament since the program was reinstated last May, it was glaringly apparent to me how much our world has changed. If you would have told any of us two years ago that to move through the world to connect with others, enjoy art, listen to music, or watch sports, would require mandatory testing, shots, and face masks, or that people would lose their jobs because they chose not to take a shot to reduce to the risk of contracting a deadly virus, most American’s would have thought you were reading from the pages of a dystopian novel.
And yet here we are. There is a political firestorm around all of these topics every time we open a newspaper, turn on the TV, or listen to current events podcast, and the debates loom large. Instead of framing things in terms of political power, I look at these issues from a mindset perspective. Fear and scarcity are low vibrations that turn people against each other and fail to inspire cooperation in communities. An abundance mindset inspires people to come together and perform at their best for the good of themselves and the whole. One of my favorite stories from corporate America comes from Delta Airlines. They didn’t mandate, but rather encouraged, their employees to get the shot, and an amazing 95% of the employees did so. Americans on average are a caring, compassionate bunch who believe in taking care of their neighbors. We like pitching in and being part of something bigger than ourselves. But a vortex of fear takes hold every time we turn on the news and, while it’s important for us to listen and learn from to the stories of others, it’s also critical to our health that we don’t live a fear based existence trying to ward off one of the millions of risks that are inherent to a life well lived. As a parent, I am much more afraid every time I watch Matthew grab his boogie board and walk down to the ocean without me than I am of any of us contracting and dying from this terrible virus. I let him go because it trains his independence and sharpens his life skills, and I breathe through it every single time.
Coming back to last Saturday, as Matthew, my friend Allison, and I inched through the line to get inside and watch the team, I could feel the loss of freedom to move through the world with the ease that we used to. Between terrorism and the pandemic, the simple freedoms that we have lost in the name of safety that were once second nature to us, and made it easier for us to care for ourselves are many. Gone are the days of bringing in a water bottle to hydrate yourself over the course of a day. Forget bringing a backpack, or even a purse, to hold the work that you could do should any down time happen, or to organize keys, glasses, the coffee mug that got you through the morning, or a book to educate yourself about whatever new topic you wanted to learn about that day. These situations feel stark, sterile and untrusting and create a lot of second guessing and stress…especially if you are a rule follower like me. As we continued up the stairs and away from the security line, you would have thought the mask mandate signs changed to “please have a mask securely tied around your wrist”. Regardless of what you believe about mask protection, it’s frustrating to jump through hoops for no real protection or gain, and realize that many of the situations we have to plan for these days are there for legal reasons more than the actual protection of human life.
COVID has been terrible for many, just as 9/11 was before that, but I miss being able to plan and choose how to move through the world, using empathy and compassion that has always been a part of my personality and genetic make up, without second guessing, or judgment. Our freedoms have been impacted in ways we never would have imagined and we intimately know what it feels like to live in fear of the unknown. Never has it been more clear that there is risk inherent in living and it will always vary from place to place and person to person, it’s the very essence of being mortal. There is no way to make that risk universal. As Americans we need to be able to make choices that fit our own risk profile. We can’t cover America in a warm blanket and avert it all. Life will always give us reason for caution, I’ve lived on the heavy side of caution my whole life. But a mindset of fear and scarcity will never serve human connection and potential, and yet it is there every time we venture out or turn on the news now. When we are fearful, our light in the world dims. We play small, take shortcuts, and even blame others in an attempt to feel safe. Then we start to doubt the positive effect our choices and life can have on the world, and instead of empowering ourselves and inspiring others, we look to be saved. The policy debate will make its way through the halls of Congress and the courts, but already today we know that fear will never create or produce what freedom will. There is no law that works better than transformation that happens from the inside out when we know how to connect with our own potential. What we need is an inoculation against fear based mentality so we can support each other and brave the risks of being human together.