Ann Morgan: Ancient virus returns to wreak havoc on society

While serious, the I-Me-Me-MyWay virus is cured by avoiding contagions and getting over yourself.

By Ann Morgan / Herald Forum

In a very short period in evolutionary time, Homo sapiens have become one of the most successful species on planet Earth.

How? We learned to cooperate. We developed socially successful behaviors to share knowledge and resources. This has ensured human survival and growth for millennia. But this incredibly successful approach to our evolution has always been threatened by a devastating plague, which is now spreading rapidly across America.

It’s the dreaded ‘I-Me-Me-MyWay’ Virus, characterized by an adoption and glorification of self-gratifying but destructive social attitudes and behaviors: arrogance, anger, hatred, resentment, hubris, vanity, entitlement, bigotry and greed. The initial infection begins when an individual develops an inflated sense of self-importance, and uses negative behaviors to dominate others with perceived “differences.” An advanced infection develops when an entire group adopts a belief that they have superior qualities and truths, which should dominate and become everyone else’s. This, in turn, inspires more negative and irrational behaviors by both those infected, and even those who resist infection.

This virus can spread rapidly. When unchecked, it can destroy entire nations and societies. A few familiar examples are: Hitler’s Holocaust, genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, the ideological wars of Isis and al-Qaida, and the civil wars in Syria and Sudan. Human history is littered with examples. Here in America, our democracy has given us some immunity. But today we are succumbing to this same age-old plague: The viral spread of infectious anger, frustration, blame games, bigotry, and outright lies, which have divided us as a nation. Ultimately, this can be disastrous, undermining our ability to use our age-old survival strategies of sharing and cooperation to eliminate common threats. And in an age of multiplying global crises, like inequality and climate change, the loss of these abilities threatens us all.

To stop the spread, everyone should be self-testing to see if they have become infected with the I-Me-Me-MyWay virus. Symptoms include:

• A persistent sense of anger and frustration, when sufferers don’t get the entitlements or respect they feel they deserve.

• An inability to cooperate or compromise with anyone outside of their group.

• In the conviction they share a superior understanding, they develop an inflated sense of self-importance, seeing those who don’t agree, as untrustworthy and threatening.

• Feeling justified and empowered (rather than ashamed) for threatening, insulting, criticizing, attacking, and blaming those who don’t believe as they do.

• Lying, misrepresenting or gas lighting to uphold the perceived superiority of their beliefs.

• As the virus advances, sufferers often entertain and enact paranoid fantasies of violence and mayhem when challenged.

If any of these symptoms represent your behavior or experience, then you should recognize that you have been infected with the I-Me-Me-MyWay virus. You need to work quickly to get over yourself, so you can cooperate, and help create shared, and effective solutions to our many problems.

To regain your health, take action: First, avoid further infection through social distancing and avoiding exposure to “super spreader” viral sources: angry and biased internet posts, viral media, and toxic individuals who amplify anger, hatred, cruelty, bigotry and group entitlement. Instead, adopt alternative activities: Spend more time with children, pets and loved ones. Engage in enjoyable outdoor activities, like camping, hiking and fishing. Seek positive narratives in TV, books or movies that uplift, rather than enrage. Develop and practice productive skills through a hobby, sport, craft or other areas of interest. Cultivate laughter and an appreciation for the many benefits we share as Americans.

Persistent viral behaviors can be neutralized by consciously practicing positive ones: Assume that the intentions of others are good, not evil. Listen to others and consider differences of opinion and experience with respect instead of scorn. Recognize the good in others you disagree with, instead of only seeing the worst. Respond to criticism with dialogue, rather than expletives. Be sincere, instead of sarcastic. Accept there are opposing views, without taking them personally. Be willing to agree to disagree. Remind yourself to treat others as you want to be treated. And don’t become a super spreader; identify your own sources of persistent anger and frustration, and work to resolve them, before you infect others.

That said, nobody’s perfect, and we don’t all have to become Mother Teresa. But if you have the I-Me-Me-MyWay virus, be brave, and take the cure: Look in the mirror, and ask yourself: What kind of person do I want to be in this world? What is causing me to behave in negative and hurtful ways? How is my behavior affecting those I love and care about?

The cure begins with truthful answers. With some honest reflection, you can regain your health, your perspective, and be a happier human. But you’ll need to be patient. It takes time, and real work to get over yourself.

It’s not easy, but you’ll feel better soon, and so will the world around you.

Ann Morgan lives in Everett.

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