Recently, I read a terrific book – Humankind by Rutger Bregman.
Bregman asked, ‘What did Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt have in common?’
They all read a book called The Psychology of the Masses by French author Gustave Le Bon. Le Bon’s main premise is that when all hell breaks loose, humans turn into barbarians. We turn on each other. Chaos is created and as a result, an enemy’s attack is made easier. The flames of fear are good for the oppressor.
Though this ‘survival- of- the- fittest’ mentality may be the case for a small percentage of people, Bregman gives numerous examples throughout history that prove the contrary. His stories and statistics prove that overall, the kids are alright – humans are pretty darn amazing.
Bregman provides the example of the bombing of England during the second World War.
In 1940, Hitler sent 348 Luftwaffe bombers to London. He probably hoped panic and chaos would make the English more vulnerable and easier to overthrow. British authorities worried as well. In anticipation of the panic that war with Germany would create, British authorities built emergency psychiatric wards throughout the country.
Yes, as expected, the bombings were horrific. London alone suffered 40,000 casualties.
However, the psychiatric wards for the most part remained empty.
Churchill encouraged the Brits to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. The English tried to live their lives as normally as possible. The trains continued to run. People shopped. Kids played.
In fact, some people reported feeling psychologically better off than before the bombings started. Suicide rates were down and alcohol abuse decreased.
Why this ‘strange’ reaction in the face of death and fear? As it turned out, average civilians helped each other like they never had before. Hitler’s bombs had the opposite effect – they brought people closer together. Chaos was replaced with camaraderie. Similarly, Bregman describes how so many ‘hardened’ New Yorkers risked their lives to save strangers during that horrific morning of Sept 11th, 2001.
Throughout the ages, contrary to what warlords, dictators and autocrats have and continue to hope for, the worst actually brings out the best in most of us. It is instinctive to choose good. It is safer to be with the clan than against it.
If you need further proof, consider these statistics. According to 700 separate field studies at The Disaster Research Centre in Delaware, the number of murders, thefts and rapes actually decrease in the wake of catastrophe.
So why do we always think the sky is falling?
Fear sells. Left- and right-wing media giants are both guilty.
Bad news is big business.
So, what should we do as we face our recent global ‘attack‘, Covid 19?
Perhaps we should continue to exercise caution, listen to the scientists and, every now and then (and trust me, I’m guilty of this too), turn off CNN. Bye- bye Anderson Cooper.
Keep Calm and Carry On and hey, it doesn’t hurt to crack a smile every now and then.
Until next time, laugh long and prosper.