We're all mad here: It's time to forgive magical thinking

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: IAN INDIANO
Opinion: We're all prone to unusual ways of thinking while under emotional stress.

The past 12 months have been a test of faith. Many of us in the North American bubble have lost our sense of safety and security — that is, those of us lucky enough to have it at all in pre-COVID times. Although we are a highly developed nation, the pandemic has proven we are not as immune to disaster as we may have originally thought. It has exposed holes of systemic inequality in our economic, healthcare, and education systems. Naturally, this has been a challenge to our belief systems and we may no longer see the world as we once did.

With our old worldview crumbling, what comes in its place?

It’s only natural that in times of crisis, fear and uncertainty, we look for some kind of answer or explanation. Our minds need a narrative that makes sense of chaos. This process specifically takes place in the left hemispheres of our brains, where we are driven to understand the cause and effect of events around us.

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This can culminate into what’s known as magical thinking, which occurs when we believe in connections that can’t be proven with evidence. A basic example is superstition, such as knocking on wood to prevent misfortune. A more topical example is the belief that government orders to wear masks and socially distance obstruct our human rights.

According psychologytoday.com, survival requires recognizing patterns: night follows day, for instance, or certain berries make us sick. As I mentioned before, it’s how our brains are wired.

So, when we’re in emotional distress, it’s not unlikely that our brains will snap into a heightened mode of survival where we might generate more magical meaning than usual. This can make stories about insidious origins of the virus seem appealing. It can also create a sense of control for those who have lost their jobs and face financial hardship.

Magical thinking has gone mainstream, thanks to misinformation shared like wildfire across the internet. There are evidently millions of people who currently believe in conspiracy theories about the coronavirus. And as easy as it is to judge those who fall for misinformation as “stupid,” ridicule is no longer a viable form of social mitigation.

There’s no excusing violence and extremism, but the divide between magical and evidence-based thinking is growing as global tensions continue to rise. Obviously we need to strategize ways to bridge that divide, not expand it.

The word “forgiveness” is not used nearly as often as it should be, so I’d like to remind you that it is still an option. Forgive magical thinking, and forgive fear – in yourself and in others.

We are all prone to magical thinking; we all need something to believe in during stressful times. If you know someone who has fallen down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theorizing, be firm with your boundaries, and be patient.

They may need you as a non-judgemental lifeline back to the real world once their narrative inevitably falls apart.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.