Toxic Positivity, Fake News and All the Things We *Don’t* Need During a Health Crisis
A crash course in not making a bad thing any worse
I’ve spent the past month missing the world.
Given that the government took some time (or more accurately, took its time) with implementing policies to address the pandemic, some companies and businesses took the lead by calling off work ahead of the official start of the community quarantine. Two positive cases were confirmed in our neighborhood, which prompted my work-from-home sitch to start a little earlier than everyone else’s. Save for a quick food run to a restaurant across the street, the last time I really saw the world was a Thursday in March.
I’m closing in on four weeks indoors and the longer I spend inside, the more convinced I become that we’re all starting to go a little haywire.
Perhaps there’s no single way to correctly deal with a health crisis, whether as an anxiety-ridden individual taking the days in stride at home, a public figure pawing their way through the haphazardly remodeled playing field or a government official with the power to catalyze change. Coronavirus is far from the world’s first pandemic, but here we are still learning to roll with the punches as they come. There’s no rulebook for this stuff. No textbook comprehensive enough, no survival manual conveniently entitled something along the lines of A Complete, Step-by-Step Guide to Getting a Country—No, the World!—Through a Pandemic (to my knowledge at least, please throw a tip my way if you’ve got any leads).
Despite the lack of in-depth instruction, there are a number of things we ought not to do. Fuel-to-the-fire sort of stuff that easily blurs the dividing line between bad and worse. Stress-inducing stuff that gets us wound up tight, tight, tighter than the news does. The kind that wraps problematic behavior nice and pretty in a costume of good vibes and power trips in behind a mask of goodwill.
It’s the kind of stuff that seems like an obvious red flag in theory and is an even bigger red flag in action, but still somehow persists in the day and age of the world wide web. So, in the absence of an exhaustive health crisis how-to, here’s a simple what-not-to-do instead.
The most interesting form of public entertainment has taken shape over the quarantine. Forget reality TV; in a surprising turn of events, influencers and celebrities have been publicly voicing out their opinions on social media and we’re paying more attention than ever. Suddenly, it isn’t about whose photos are edited best and the people they’re rubbing elbows with. Instead, we’re looking directly at what people stand for (and in the process, what they won’t). Everyone from Davao Conyo to Bela Padilla to Angelica Panganiban, who proudly voted for the incumbent president, have utilized their platforms to tackle topics that go over beyond comedy and lifestyle and movies.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the grin-and-bear-it folks. Unfortunately, not everything can be solved by selfies and good vibes and the elusive idea of “unity” when the system lacks transparency and efficiency. Perhaps we should let this thread speak for itself.
When you think hard enough about the families still starving outside, it becomes much easier to catch a whiff of the toxic positivity dripping off others.
Where does the line between motivation and pressure lie? It’s a tough question to answer on the regular, but the merging days at work-from-home limbo has exacerbated it a hundredfold. Now that we’re at home for another few weeks, it may seem like there’s no better time to get started on that portfolio or continue that passion project. Learn a new skill! Pick up a new language! The possibilities are endless…for the ones who can afford the privilege of possibility.
If you don’t come out of this quarantine with either:
1.) a new skill
2.) starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business
3.) more knowledge
You didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline
— Jeremy Haynes (@TheJeremyHaynes) April 2, 2020
This tweet from business expert and motivational speaker Jeremy Haynes unlocked viral status because, well, it is just so damn tone deaf. Every time I come across this tweet, I find myself more and more tempted to find a way to reach across my screen and shake a little sense into Jeremy because could he possibly have forgotten that there’s a health and economic crisis on our minds? In case it isn’t obvious, I’m trying very hard not to double up on my punctuation marks right now.
Perhaps it all boils down to, once again, privilege. It gets tiring to hear but maybe there’s a reason it’s become the internet’s favorite buzzword as of late. Trauma psychologist Alaa Hijazi spoke out against the viral tweet, stressing that not everyone can make a business thrive in a period of collective trauma.
Romanticizing the Issue
For those who keep religion close to their hearts, it seems now is a better time than ever to say prayers and stay steadfast. Sure, humans staying indoors has made the skies clearer. Maybe the earth finally catching a break. Wildlife is supposedly returning to Venetian canals after a “very long time.” Who knows, perhaps this was God’s plan—whichever god you might believe in. But taking the pandemic that has taken lives and costuming it as, of all things, a blessing? Please tell me you notice that bad taste lingering in your mouth, too.
Whether it’s a Netflix documentary, an election or the spread of a worldwide illness, any topic that spurns extremely divided opinions comes with its fair share of conspiracy and fake news. Needless to say, unverified claims can cause mass hysteria and set many a Facebook-perusing parent on a link forwarding spree on Viber. By now, we should recognize the warning signals from afar: group chat screen shots, chain messages that begin with “this came from a friend of a friend” and end with too many exclamation points, clickbait from Twitter—often with no credible source to speak of.
For the record, that news about the swans and dolphins in Venice was completely fake.
At some point in the future, all this shutting ourselves in and steering clear of any other human being is bound to fade into a distant memory—but that time hasn’t arrived just yet. Here and now, the threat of coronavirus is still very much on our radars and, whether through gluing our eyes to the news, camping out on Twitter, taking online classes or working our way towards barista status at home, we’re all doing our damn best to cope. Factually, we’re all aware we could be a literal touch away from a virus. The worst thing we can do is worsen that fear.
It’s truly a shame that this is our government’s M.O.
Since 2016, the threaten-and-troll (launching a threat towards group of people or a specific person, often on national television, and then having trolls do “damage control”) has become solidified as a classic move in the presidential playbook. When the administration is feeling extra spicy, they pull a pity party wild card or an all too predictable “It was a joke!” reversal.
In bad humor or otherwise, the spewing of death threats and the looming fear of arrest have separated the Filipino people even further. Political stances aside, if the objective that fuels community quarantine is protecting life, why are we leading our countrymen to fear for theirs instead? While we can’t discount the long-awaited signs of progress—the development of testing kits, the beginning of mass testing, the billion-peso Economic Relief Fund for micro-businesses—numbers continue to rise and trepidation continues to bubble.
Which begs the question, when is the next time we can feel safe again?
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver