Replacing Fear with Helpfulness

In midst of this rapidly escalating Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps you have been experiencing ups and downs as I have, vacillating between prudence and panic; between caution and fear.

Just before taking my walk today I was reading about the negative physiological consequences of fear. Of course, that is not news! We all know that telltale squishy feeling that unease creates in our bellies, accompanied by an unsettling sense of antsiness and hand-wringing, finding ourselves unable to concentrate and calm ourselves.

There is a wonderful line in the movie Bridge of Spies where a character who is in deep trouble is asked if he is worried. He answers, “Would it help?” I think of that so often when I am on the edge of worry, yet knowing that it won’t help is not enough to dispel the butterflies in my stomach.

Then, as I was walking, I realized how much difference it makes to look at things through the lens of “What might be helpful?” instead of a lens of “I’m afraid to/of (fill in the blank).”

In this case, “helpful” means I maintain social distance not only to prevent my own exposure to the virus, but also in order to help avoid it spreading unintentionally. I look for ways to lessen the problem at hand, not only for myself, but for the greater good.

“Afraid” means I stay home because I’m focused on my personal safety, and I’m looking for ways to escape. A healthy dose of fear is definitely warranted, but from a psychological point of view, choosing a helpful response is empowering while choosing a fearful one feeds a sense of powerlessness, even despair. The difference is not the action, it’s the attitude.

We are dealing with a huge crisis. Somehow, however, we need to find a workable attitude to carry us through this time of great uncertainty. “What is helpful?” seems like a good place to start.

Television’s children host Mr. Rogers said his mother responded to scary news by telling him, “Look for the helpers.” We can be those helpers, and we, ourselves, will be helped by being them.


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