It’s called the neutral zone, and it feels that nothing is certain because that’s really the case.
The initial feeling of fear had begun to subside, but things weren’t going as well as we’d originally hoped when we started the strangest summer of our lives (up until now, anyway). We still feel as though we’re navigating into the unknown, while waiting for someone to tell us that this “test phase” has now finished and we can resume normality.
Our brains find it hard to tolerate uncertainty, as our primal instincts tell us that uncertainty equates to danger. So what does it do? It fills the gaps with provisional and imperfect solutions, but good enough to lower stress levels. But what are these solutions? They are reasonable connections between different concepts: links and suggestions based on past experiences. Often they refer back to our immense knowledge pool on stereotypes.
Stereotypes are useful in uncertain times.
It’s because they are born out of social knowledge that may not always be up-to-date, but commonly accepted. They can often be confirmed through episodes that the stereotypes in themselves contribute to creating. It’s because they are easy to access, there’s many of them and they exist in every culture. They help to recognize similarities and keep “difference” away, without having to use additional energy to accurately evaluate things.
In uncertain times, mental energy is a precious and rare thing. It’s easily used up when managing uncertainty, and when wanting to conserve energy, we feel justified by putting our “health first”!
We are in the middle ground, between an unexpected event and emergency management, and a space that will extend in different directions for many months to come. Who knows if our grandparents felt this way during the way, living in uncertainty for six long years. They must have found the strength to find a “new normal” to last so long. Will we be able to do the same?
Living off interim solutions: will we accept them in our lives and even create our own, even when we know they are imperfect and will soon change again?
Will we tolerate that, whatever the choice that we’re faced with today, nobody can promise or guarantee that the decision will last?
Will we enjoy a walk that was forbidden to us a few months ago, knowing that the government could make it illegal again at any time?
Will we teach our children that schools will open again, well today they are but who knows about tomorrow, and these decisions aren’t in our hands?
Together with them, will we make this time of uncertainty a place where we can live with energy and volition, without saving ourselves or putting off living until the wait is over?
Maybe our decision margins have tightened. Our margins of control certainly have. But at the same time, there are new margins: we can think about new ways of living, talking about and connecting them. We can recognize when we no longer automatically fill in the gaps, using the most obvious and quickest route, which keep us anchored on old and tired definitions instead of moving forward.
The fear has started to pass, now we can find our energy. We need more courage in times of uncertainty, adapting to a new pace and being tolerant of diversions and new paths.
Maybe looking for a dimension where we can keep writing our story, if only in part, will make us feel foolish.
But now more than ever, in tighter spaces and lines that continue to change shape, this collective trauma has put the pen back in our hand to start writing.
It’s true that our conservation instinct brings us towards existing definitions – celebrated in times of crisis because they are easily accessible, easy and quick to use, even though they don’t hit the mark. But the neutral zone that we will find ourselves in for some time to come invites us to see so much more.
Everything that is new is uncertain, we’re living through it for the first time. Now the neutral zone is our new territory, coming at a time where we felt newness could only come through technological innovation, and it was there that we channeled our creativity, curiosity and fear.
But today our whole world is new, starting from our hidden seeds that we find along the way, continuing with the way that we can get to know ourselves, recognize ourselves, meet each other, even to the point where we fall in love and live with them, learning and working. It’s scary, but it’s also a great opportunity.
The neutral zone is always a “new beginning”, but it’s not born from nothing. It’s continuously born out of what we’ve been able to do, taking small and courageous steps into uncertainty.