The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture

The COVID-19 Arrow: Striking at the Heart of American Life and Culture

A = Anxiety: When facing the health and mental health challenges associated withCOVID-19, there is no clear and consistent container for our fear and anxiety. This results in the spilling out and expansion of virus-induced anxiety—an anxiety that is present, according to Silberberg in Israel as well as the United States (and probably most societies in the world). Pain that is associated with the anxiety is never fully processed. It remains “dirty” and traumatizing, rather than becoming “clean.” Human service providers are challenged as the personal and collective level to provide settings in which a container for the anxiety can be provided and where a safe environment can be created for the acknowledgement and processing (metabolizing) of pain associated with the virus.

As I have done in adding two conditions to VUCA, I add two additional outcomes that accompany VUCA-Plus and particularly the COVID-19 outbreak.

Trauma: The trauma associated with VUCA-Plus is embodied in us, thus impacting our physical and mental wellbeing. VUCA-elicited trauma is heightened by the many challenges inherent in COVID-19. The virus-inducted trauma occurs at both the personal level and collective level. Furthermore, the trauma at these two levels reinforces one another. A loss of control resides at the heart of trauma. Something happens to us over which we are powerless or which we are unable to fully avoid or resolve—the uncompleted act. There is a profound shifting from an internal locus of control to an external locus when we are confronted with the challenges of a pandemic. We have lost our “agency” and are inclined to feel helpless and hopeless (leading to depression).

Polarization: Our thoughts and feelings swing widely and wildly between poles as we collectively formulate policies regarding COVID-19. This leaves us frozen in our ability to make clear and consistent decisions and plans for the future. We are also frozen in the dissonance created by the polarization. This polarization is to be found in our personal life and in our collective life. The polarization, together with the trauma, is likely to lead to displacement of frustration onto a less powerful “cause” for the challenges associated with VUCA-Plus and COVID-19 (leading to violence). The “other” people in our society are demonized and scapegoated, often being assigned blame for our virus-relate, unprocessed pain and trauma.

Moving Forward

With this brief overview of the challenges and potential outcomes associated with VUCA-Plus and COVID-19 in the world and distinctively in American culture, I turn specifically to Varda Silberberg’s Seven Themes They not only provide excellent guidance in our personal and collective confrontation with the virus’ many challenges but also provide me with the opportunity to draw some comparisons between the societies and cultures of Israel and the United States—specifically regarding perspectives and psychological practices related to the virus.

I will also use the following pages to expand through each of Varda’s themes on the summary description of COVID induced outcomes I have just identified and will introduce some of the insights offered by Nicholas Christakis in Apollo’s Arrow.


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About the Author

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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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