How to get through

As we have seen earlier, the lockdown in which we currently live equals a situation of dislocation. Our vital needs of autonomy, achievement, and social belonging are seriously curbed. At the moment, we only have two external sources at our disposal to fulfill our needs: offline communication with the ones we share our living space with and online communication with the outside world.

Ideally, the two sources complement each other: what is lacking from one source should be compensated by the other source. For those living alone, for instance, this means that online communication is the only source from which they can get all their external input.

As individuals close to our school community we see how the two sources momentarily function in practice. Our students tell us they have become much closer to their family members for lack of other offline communication options. At the same time, many teachers feel that their teaching mission to fulfill their students’ need for achievement increases their students’ experience of dislocation.

A major underlying cause of this feeling is that teachers are often expected to keep up the same teaching pace as they kept up offline, before the lockdown. This expectation is based on the concept of totality: everything is part of a bigger whole and, in the end, can be reduced to the reality we know, or maybe: knew.

For many teachers, the direct consequence of this totality-inspired thinking is a feeling that they disrupt their students’ lives. They observe that they are causing stress among students and their relatives by requiring them to organize their learning by themselves and to compensate for the less efficient transfer of knowledge online by handing out additional homework. Often the stress inflicted starts to lead to a feeling of failure among students and their relatives. Both the stress and the feeling of failure affect the fulfillment of all vital student needs negatively: their sense of achievement, their sense of autonomy, and their sense of belonging.

The answer to this situation is not for all sources to focus on one vital need, like for instance social belonging, although this is what quite a few parents and teachers are currently suggesting. All vital needs need to be addressed.

We all need to feel that we still are capable of exercising agency – that we are capable of organizing our lives by means of our own planned actions. Part of the organization of our lives is about maintaining a sense of regularity and familiarity while escaping existential uncertainty. This is our safe haven to which we can return at any time. Another part is to undertake actions that bring us personal satisfaction and meaning. This brings us otherness and opens us up to a moral universe.

Exercising this kind of agency is only possible when the demands on us by ourselves and by others are realistic given our current reality – not based on the reality that was but on a new concept of reality. We need to adjust our totality.

And, we also need to feel that we are still part of other people’s lives and others are still part of our lives, even though we respect social distancing. This means that we all are to initiate contact with our near ones, no matter whether this is online or offline, and to express our nearness in words and in acts. We must proactively search and maintain the emotional relations that we had before the lockdown while accepting that they might have to take on different forms. We must shun our scruples as much as we can and clearly express our trust, our empathy, and our love.