Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The secret to finding our way out of a pandemic isn’t wishful thinking

Did y’all ever watch that self-help movie The Secret? It’s also a book, and I’m pretty sure I saw an ad on Netflix for a related movie that looks to be of the Hallmark made-for-TV variety.

The advice in The Secret is to focus on what you want, rather than what you don’t want, and to give yourself the feeling of already having what you want to the greatest extent possible. The more you do this, goes the theory, the more you create your reality on a quantum level, and then the universe simply has no way to respond but to give you what you want.

I think about this a lot. When I first saw it, I felt excited. What if it worked?

But then I started thinking about it more deeply, and cracks became evident: mainly that it seemed to lean pretty hard on blaming the victims for bad things that have happened to them, à la, “Gee, those people should have been more focused on being spared by that hurricane” or “Gosh, if only they hadn’t been focusing on losing their job in that last recession!”

I mention The Secret because it seems that many of Mexico’s leaders and citizens are trying their best to apply this kind of wishful thinking to the pandemic: “If we just believe that the economy is getting better, it will! Don’t lose faith!”

This, as millions lose jobs and businesses, and the poverty rate — which you only need to earn a measly 1,700 pesos a month to be above — increases to 45% of the population.

“If we don’t believe, we won’t get infected with Covid-19, we won’t!” – this, as Mexico leads most other countries in the fatality rate of the virus. Bars and malls are open, people are having parties. My fellow paisanos from the United States are coming to Mexico in droves for a vacation from the restrictions in place where they live — happy, I suppose, to spread the virus in someone else’s home instead.

“The vaccine will spread across the country far and wide, and we’ll be back to normal before you know it!” – this, as Mexico’s distribution has already started off rockily in chaotic disarray and the privileged are accused of what they’re always (usually rightly) accused of, trying to jump the line to lock down their own advantage.

I get it: not having fun the way we used to is hard. But we can’t will things to be how we want them. Simply behaving how The Secret instructs us to — as if we are already free of the virus — will not make freedom from the virus happen.

I do believe that humans shape their own reality to a great extent but not in the way that The Secret would have us believe. What happens to us, individually and collectively, is a consequence of our individual and collective beliefs and actions. That’s not magic; it’s just agency.

To me, part of the “magic” of The Secret is that if you really believe something, then that belief will guide you toward behavior that will get you there. So if, for example, you see yourself having a full bank account by the end of the year, you’ll be looking for and be open to opportunities to make that happen.

But let’s get real, people. No amount of focusing on the positive — while simultaneously doing things in opposition to us getting out of this situation — will get us out of this situation.

We need major financial disaster relief.

We need extensive Covid testing.

We need extreme and strict organization in getting the vaccine out, in an orderly fashion, to as many people as possible.

We need a president who sets a positive example in combatting the virus rather than wasting his time complaining that the media isn’t doing enough to show how awesome everyone thinks he is.

We need people to stop believing they’re the exception to every rule, that what they do can’t possibly affect anyone (or themselves, for that matter) negatively.

We need people to believe that the virus really can happen to them and those they love.

So let’s fantasize about how things will be later, by all means. But let’s not forget that we need to actually make it so.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website,

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