The air is filled with a general feeling of sadness. It’s a common feeling that no one is feeling well right now. This is what we all talk about online. We post stoic tweets, self-effacing Tiktoks, and rambling Instagram captions. The medium may change, but the message remains the same: Pandemic life is a rollercoaster ride of anxiety, angers, sorrows, and confusion. And it’s natural. Many have experienced loss of loved ones and lost livelihoods over the past year and half. They have felt more alone than they ever thought possible. The future is grim.
Sometimes it can be comforting to know that other people are also filled with dread. The most relatable memes I find when I’m scrolling through my social media feeds are those that remind me that no one is okay. Relatability is only a partial solution. Pandemic angst is an emotion that is naturally isolating. It is also rooted in a feeling of disconnection from others. This amplifies the feeling that there is no shared reality on which to stand. Perhaps we are referring to the feeling that everyone you meet on the streets now has a glimpse into another dimension.
Yet, it seems like our shared struggles should lead to a cohesive community and a common goal. Dr. Michele Goldman is a Columbia Health psychologist and a media advisor for the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. “Some aspects about the COVID-19 epidemic have been a common reality.” “Our lives were turned upside-down and what used make sense now doesn’t.” She continues: “The way we move around the world is different.” Collective losses caused by the loss of our senses of freedom, connection and relationships, as well as all other experiences, were an experience that was shared. But it doesn’t feel like that.
First of all, not everyone was affected by the 17-months of the pandemic in the same manner. Goldman states, “It is undisputed that people of color, particularly those with lower socioeconomic status, were significantly affected by this pandemic.” Pre-existing conditions and those with a medical condition had different experiences than those who are healthy and able-bodied. Cognitive dissonance is only worsened by the simultaneous insistence that we are all in this together – both as a rallying cry, and as a comforting promise – and by the fact that many people felt very isolated and abandoned by their government, leaders, and society during COVID.
Tiktoker @cyborg.prof describes their realization in a video. This is for someone for whom COVID could be life-threatening. They miss the most about their life before the pandemic isn’t the coffee shops but the “privilege of living in a shared reality” with others.
They say that they have learned through this pandemic that many of my friends, colleagues, and ex-girlfriends are content living in a world in which I die or am isolated indefinitely because I’m disabled.
Lakoundji says, “There’s something so troubling about going out in the public these days,” “because there are just a few people who, for their sake, nothing’s changed.” They don’t believe the pandemic happened. Everything is fine. The climate is changing is a hoax. We can vote better next year and everything will be okay. Interacting with them is difficult because we don’t talk to each other. “We don’t all live in the same reality.”
She continues, “More than ever, I must grapple with reality-affirming”
The United States has been rife in ideological rifts since its beginnings. It’s an understatement to call American politics “polarizing”. The disconnect between Americans and COVID only increased with the nation’s response. Official policies as well as cultural attitudes regarding social distancing and masking and vaccination have displayed a shocking indifference to human life. This nation is filled with solipsists who believe that everyone is the same person.
It’s hard to underestimate the psychological impact of feeling like you don’t have a reality with other citizens. It’s more than a difference in opinion. It is vital to have a shared reality. Goldman defines the concept as “a commonality in experiences that connects us to the larger universe, regardless of whether it is a belief, value, perception, or emotion.” This shared experience reminds us that we are connected to other people or groups of people in a particular way. It doesn’t always lead to a positive outcome. It’s how humans communicate and make sense of the world.
It can make things more real by sharing reality. You can share a happy news story with others and see their excitement reflect back to you. This makes it seem more real. If you share positive news with others and get a stale response, it can dampen your enthusiasm.
My coworkers and me recently discussed which face we most often looked at during video calls. Several of us shared the same answer. We said that we looked at the person who had the best reactions and was the most emotional. It seemed to be exactly what we felt during our meetings. This is just one example of how we strive to create shared reality in all that we do. It is not enough to focus only on the person who relays information at a meeting. If that were the case we would just look at the speaker. It’s more important to look at how others are reacting and share similar emotions.
E. Tory Higgins (psychologist), is the author of Shared Reality: How We Make Us Strong and What Tears us Apart. He believes that this sharing is fundamental human motivation. Baby’s often point out things to get help, not because they are looking for it but because they want the other person to see it. This is a shared excitement, a mutual acknowledgment that they both perceive this thing with the same mindset, creating a reality between them. Even though we are not experiencing the experience, it is fun to watch others eat or stream games on Twitch. We share stories from our lives to create a coherent narrative about the world.
It can be so difficult to feel connected if you don’t have affirmation about your experience. Goldman says, “If my reality is not consistent with another’s, this can cause me to question myself and result in feeling opposed to the other. This can be particularly problematic when trying to establish a relationship with someone who views things differently.” We feel disconnected and can even doubt our ability to see the truth when we don’t share a common reality with others. The chaos and confusion of The Dress is an example of this.
Recent research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people felt more happy in their families when their political perceptions weren’t shared in a shared reality. This could be because their fellow citizens didn’t vote for the “wrong” person or gave approval for the wrong idea. This paper shows that we need validation of reality from somewhere. If my perception of reality doesn’t match that of a larger population, I value the validation that a close social group can provide me.
A pandemic is characterized by people being isolated, both psychologically and physically. Quarantine has made finding comfort in family and friends more difficult. The past 17 months have brought home the harsh reality that your close family members and friends don’t see the same reality as you. This can only make the social isolation and loneliness worse. Some people feel the pandemic has altered how they relate to others and whether or not they even feel part of a community.
It feels paradoxically that what is connecting us now is our feeling of being disconnected. There is consensus that we are not on the same wavelength. We’re all shouting in our own rooms about our private pain. When I see another Tiktok about living in a shared reality, I am cynical enough to realize that the algorithm can at least validate me.