BENGALURU: With a lot of trepidation and a smattering of hope, much of India is getting back to business as usual. We have had 75 days and more of being locked down.This lockdown period and all the physical distancing has been reminiscent of timeouts given to kids who are exhibiting really angry behaviour, to the point of kicking and screaming. Weary adults give timeouts to kids at such times, getting each kid into a corner, facing the wall with little to no sensory cues.
The timeouts are supposed to be periods of self-reflection and quiet times, the kid is supposed to think about their own behaviour and hopefully feel some remorse at their bad actions, want to be more positive and try something new. The timeout and the sensory deprivation during the time is expected to get the kid to feel grateful for what they have and understand how easily it can be taken away from them, and so to behave better. The adults can and will take away their privileges at short notice and the threat is often enough to get them in line.
Once in a while though, the timeouts do not have much of an effect, especially if the kids are all ganged up into their respective factions. That just makes them nurse their grievances, lick their wounds and they get even more unruly, fight even worse, sometimes disregarding the timeouts altogether. It is hell then for the adults to get some control back, and often they need to resort to active detention and punishment.
For adults in loving relationships too, this idea of a timeout during conflicts is an important de-escalation strategy. When a conflict is building up within a relationship, and it is coming to a boiling point, being able to take time off from each other and everything else, and giving oneself time to reflect quietly and take stock often helps the couple let go of their anger, connect to each other’s points of view and what each needs, and work through their problems more effectively. If during these timeouts, instead of spending time in self-reflection and self-soothing, if we are in our own little camps, our anger gets coddled into something even more monstrous, and we come out raging and baying for blood. It is then no-holds barred fighting and all bets are off.
Currently, it seems like we were all sent out on timeouts of sorts when the initial exhortations to wash our hands, self-report and self-quarantine did not work. With so many of us scrupulously following the guidelines, the timeouts have helped but we have also been watching the curve rise inexorably, and now we have our hearts in our mouths as things get unlocked. Are we going to have massive outbreaks? Have we learned our lessons and will we voluntarily keep distances and spare ourselves the trouble? Or will we lose it? Will we need the authorities to come down on us harder than ever?
(The writer is a counsellor with InnerSight)