Have you noticed that folks are acting a little strange these days? Like, maybe they’re a bit meaner than usual? Or they’re falling apart in normal situations?
There’s lots of evidence that people have been losing it a bit since the pandemic started.
There are videos of folks yelling at Tim Horton’s workers. One man in Ontario had a fit over masks while on a ski vacation. He was so threatening the ski hill called the cops on him, and they took him away from the mountain.
Healthcare workers say their patients have been more grumpy than usual. Likewise, teachers have noticed that their students are acting out more often.
Violence stats like the country’s murder rate went up in 2020. Edmonton and Calgary were particularly murdery that year. Statistics Canada said hate crimes spiked around the same time.
So what in the world is going on? How have we gone from Be Calm, Be Kind, Be Safe to having meltdowns in the coffee shop?
Folks in psychology and other social fields have sensible reasons for why we’re so unreasonable these days.
Everyone’s stressed. The COVID tide may have slowed down–for now?–but the stress of the pandemic is still with us. People have lost friends and loved ones. Folks with other illnesses are still having a hard time.
Christine Porath, a business professor at Georgetown University, studied why people are rude to one another. She told the Atlantic that “the No. 1 reason by far was feeling stressed or overwhelmed.”
That means it takes a lot less to trigger a meltdown or set someone off.
Also, rudeness is a bit like a virus. It’s contagious. Porath found that people at work spread their negative emotions to their co-workers, bosses, and clients, even if those people didn’t cause their bad mood.
Even people who see others being rude tend to be ruder for the next little while.
It’s a hard feeling to shake.
Drinking and stress are a terrible combination. We’re less likely to be all “I love you, man” when we start off stressed out.
We’re social animals. We get lonely, sad, and stressed when we can’t see our friends and loved ones.
There’s that stress again.
Robert Sampson is a Harvard sociologist who studies social disorders. He told the Atlantic that “[w]e’re more likely to break rules when our bonds to society are weakened.”
Émile Durkheim was a philosopher more than 100 years ago. He called this more anti-social condition anomie. When we spend more time around our friends and neighbours, we’re more likely to want to do right by them. And by strangers. But in a state of anomie, when we aren’t spending much time around our neighbours, we tend to put our own needs above others.
“We’ve got, I think, a generalized sense that the rules simply don’t apply,” Richard Rosenfeld told the Atlantic. He’s a criminologist at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.
He also said the police didn’t arrest as many people in the early pandemic. So when folks think they won’t get in trouble, they tend to break more rules.
It’s Not About Mental Illness
Folks with severe mental illness have had a hard time with the pandemic. But they are only a tiny fraction of the population, and they commit an even smaller number of violent crimes.
Tom Insel is the former director of the US National Institute of Mental Health. He said it’s important to separate people with mental illnesses from regular folks who do shitty things.
When asked about people who throw fits on planes, he told the Atlantic, “I think those are assholes.”
Some of the trouble may go away by itself after the pandemic. But in the meantime, there are things you can do to make things a little better, at least for yourself and your loved ones.
Get together with your friends. See your loved ones. Loneliness is super stressful, and the medicine for that is social contact.
While it might not keep that stranger from mouthing off to the cashier, it might mean you don’t take up their rudeness. Then, your friends and family might be happier, too. And you can always be extra nice to that rude person. They’ll never know what hit them.
Get Outside in Nature
We live in the perfect place for this. Forests and oceans are healing. And we’ll probably see strangers when we’re outside.
Being outside and seeing folks in the real world helps rebuild those social ties. It can help us get out of that state of anomie.
And when we all feel a bit more connected, it helps us deal with whatever stressful thing might lie ahead.