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Interdependence and Hope: Be the Second Chicken

It all started with a science experiment and a group of chicks.  I grabbed one chick and eyeballed it like I was a hungry hawk. When placed back in its box the chick played possum for about a minute seeking a way for self-preservation. Then back up the chick popped, demonstrating a cycle of fear and recovery.

I repeated the experiment, but this time with two chicks at the same time!  This time both chicks remained immobilized for about five minutes - another demonstration of the fear and recovery cycle.  

In the last round of the experiment I let one chick wander around the box while I immobilized the other with a hawk-eye. But this time when I released the chick back to the box the fear-recovery cycle was short - the chick popped back up after mere seconds.  

My conclusion: a frightened chicken looks to the second chicken to see that it's safe.  When the second chicken is walking around happily, it seems to signal the first chicken that all is well.  That second chicken isn’t scared - and hasn’t been eaten - so it must be safe for me to get up and walk around.

Story summary and excerpts from The Opposite of Worry, L.J. Cohen

That second chicken isn’t scared.

My partner and best friend, Michelle, is a therapist - and mighty gifted I must say!  Every once in a while our worlds collide and lead to wonderful learning moments (usually for me, as one with a developing emotional intelligence).  

Last week, Michelle was preparing a zoom training on anxiety and returned to a book that sat on her shelf a long time - and read the simple and powerful story above.  Dear Reader:  I’d like to think with you about the importance of that second chick, the one left free in the box and her impact on the chick who got the hawk-eye.    

Worry is a natural response to the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Worry can also be paralyzing (as we see in the case of the second part of the chicks experiment).  Paralysis can also lead to a sense of powerlessness or despair. In a time of anxiety like this it is most certainly legitimate to lie down and take 5 like the 2 chicks in the second part of the experiment.  Grief and fear can’t be ignored - and these extraordinary circumstances require grace and time to be honest about them. 

So hawk-eyes of various sorts are staring down economic and policy systems

And speaking of worry, the Parliamentary Budget Officer of Canada is projecting a pandemic-related budget deficit of at least $252 billion.  So hawk-eyes of various sorts are staring down economic and policy systems around the world and it's all pretty scary.  This amount of debt comes with significant interest costs. This will lead to pressures for a mix of tax measures and program spending reductions that will have deep impacts.  In the past 5 years some good steps have been made that begin to address chronic challenges in refugee policy and for equitable services in Indigenous communities.  These are just two examples of critical areas of justice and reconciliation that are at risk because of the debt challenges caused by the pandemic. It's also true that the pandemic amplifies injustices that vulnerable communities experience on a regular basis - think of long-term boil-water-advisories in Indigenous communities or refugee camps in a time in which hand washing with clean water is critical to life.

A predictable response to these challenges is anxiety about scarcity,the inevitability of cuts and feelings of powerlessness - we’re tempted to lie down.  In this situation, what would it look like for churches and justice-seekers to be the second chicken - a non-anxious, wise and resolute presence as we live into a new-normal in a post-pandemic context?   

What would it look like for churches and justice-seekers to be the second chicken?

Well, to start with, I think COVID is a teacher of interdependence (love of neighbour) in a political and economic culture that values self-reliance.  This interdependence is made so very clear in the fact that people doing what we usually consider menial jobs (cleaners, grocery clerks and truck drivers) are keeping us safe, fed and alive. Interdependence is also clear in the fact that your health and my health are connected to the health of our neighbours next door, in the next province and across international borders. Now, our chicken story demonstrates that worry and resilience are shared experiences.   As we look to re-building and resilience in a post-pandemic world, I think a hopeful Christian vision includes celebration of interdependence and public witness about its importance.  This can be a calm and non-anxious presence of hope and leadership in a tense and complicated time.

So what does hopeful citizenship that upholds the beauty and opportunity of neighbourly love and interdependence look like?  Let me offer a few thoughts:  

  • In communication with your elected representatives, offer gratitude for their commitment to serving the needs of the public in this difficult time - this honours and celebrates interdependence and might surprise a leader who is used to getting criticism. 

  • Debt, scarcity, taxes and program cuts are likely to be top of mind for public policy makers and shapers for the foreseeable future.  Let’s encourage policy makers to learn the pandemic lessons of interdependence by building policy processes that hear from people affected by an issue.  This dialogue will help develop creative policy approaches to systemic injustices that were magnified by the pandemic (long-term care for example).  Creative solutions based on thoughtful dialogue will help us look beyond the anxiety of budget scarcity and build resilience. 

  • Churches can be that second chicken in their cities and neighborhoods by embodying hope.  One way this can be done is planning community ministry by coming along-side good things that are happening in the neighbourhood.  Celebrating and building on community assets, rather than focussing on problems, is a great way to build resilience and hope after this pandemic.

All told, may we step away from fear and into a transformed and hope filled normal of interdependence.

Photo by Designer Viet Nam on Unsplash

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