Sigmund Freud used a fable about porcupines when writing and speaking about group psychology that resonates for me right now.
A troop of porcupines is milling about on a cold winter's day. In order to keep from freezing, the animals move closer together. Just as they are close enough to huddle, however, they start to poke each other with their quills. In order to stop the pain, they spread out, lose the advantage of co-mingling, and again begin to shiver. This sends them back in search of each other, and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing.
One of the great challenges we have confronted in this Covid year has been staying connected. I long to be with other people, to be with my colleagues. I am very conscious of the growing numbers of Covid diagnoses across our nation and our planet and am more convinced than ever that we must maintain our vigilance...but I just miss my peeps. How do we stay connected to one another behind masks and plexiglass, across Zoom and six feet of social distancing? How do we feel connected when we’re on rotations of working in the office and from home in order to keep the number of people sharing one space to a minimum?
This situation is creating some moments I find humorous, however. A few days ago, I watched the following transaction. One of our team members who is working from home had an item for another team member. The first person brought the item to the office before work hours (to help keep the number of staff in the office during work hours to a minimum) and then texted the other team member with the item’s location so that she could retrieve it when she was scheduled to be in the office.
How bizarre it is that we have to engage in behavior that reminds me of the old spy movies--when a gadget created in a secret lab was left at a pre-designated drop site for the agent to retrieve surreptitiously. Do you remember when we could just walk down to someone’s office and hand something to them directly...without sanitizing it first? I was thinking about that earlier this week, when, as part of a routine wellness exam, I had to sign a release form for some medical records. I used a pen from a special receptacle labelled “sanitized” and then placed my pen in another receptacle labelled “used.” The entire transaction made me so germ conscious that I actually apologized for returning the paper I had just touched. Sigh.
In the midst of all this, I can’t help but think about Freud’s porcupines trying to figure out how to stay connected without hurting each other. At times, all of the maneuvering seems almost comical, but we have to keep trying. We need each other. It’s not just that we need each other in order to get our jobs done; we need each other because we make each other better. When we pull apart, put our heads down, and just try to push through on our own, we lose something--the insight of our colleagues, warmth and companionship, camaraderie, those moments that convey belief in one another’s value, and more.
As we finish this semester and work toward the success of next semester, let’s stick together in the best possible Covid-era sense! Let’s make a special effort to stay connected. Try leaving a note of encouragement on the door for the next person coming in on the rotation. Send a text or an email to see how your colleagues are doing. Share a YouTube clip with your crew that just makes you laugh. Practice safe socialization like virtual dinner gatherings, team movies or game watching. Even in Covid, try to find the fun and live in the wow!
Stay Bengal Strong Together!