Like many others, we find ourselves in the extraordinary state of (voluntary) quarantine. This, novel condition of solitude, entailing the material alteration of established daily routines, automatic and volitional, generally renders people, at first, in a state of annoyed disruption, and later, possibly dependent upon nuanced persona, confusion, frustration, and, even personal fear. Such emotional reactions, find their etiology in the abrupt cessation of one’s previously familiar, and therefore, secure and accepted, way of life. For active people, normal reaction to the status, is akin to a perspiring, heavily breathing, city jogger, energetically, running in place, awaiting the change of an intersectional traffic light.
It would appear, that we have all incorporated, our long established, nuanced, activities, both characterological and mechanical, fixed patterns of regular behavior, so that a sudden, enforced break, in the (previously felt) “daily grind,” can result in feelings of being ill at ease, confused, purposeless and generally, “out of sorts.”
To add kindling to the virtual bonfire of dense and confusing smoke, one needs to bear in mind that we, since the 19th Century, have developed into an industrial society, such that, production and profits have been secular deities. Between certain ages, men (and, recently, many women) have been, and are, rewarded and valued, by society on criteria, relative to their production and contribution, to the financial success of their employer, and ultimately to their Nation. A man who is not working (except for recognized disability) is, eerily looked upon, with deprecation and disrespect. The “doers,” the ambitious, “go getters” the “strivers” in commerce, are awarded the kudos, by an industrially oriented, work centered, society. By such folkways, not working, viz., not productive, is the adjective for a wasted, useless and purposeless individual. However, the retired American, is respected, in this milieu, for his past contributions to our industrial society.
In addition to the possible feeling of frustrated uselessness, and abnormality in one’s daily life, a feeling of confused identity, may well set, in after a dose of unexpected (and unearned) leisure. In addition to a sense of being ill at ease, in not working, and to that extent purposeless, he, in addition to an uncomfortable disturbance with his established, routines, suffers a feeling of uncertainty as to his (new) identity. Leisure was eternally, a valuable aspiration, while in normal performance of his work (“in harness”) but now, it is a disturbing and, even guilt ridden state.
In our productive society, one of the regular, preliminary questions, posed on the occasion of a social introduction to a new person, is, “What do you do? The response, a shoe salesman or a dentist, will suffice to enable a stereotypic, acceptance, for the moment. Should the response to the question be,” I am not working at present,” his acceptance may be delayed, or, unless further explanatory facts are acceptable, within the established context of our commercial-industrial expectations, he may be considered socially unacceptable.
Prior to the “Industrial Revolution” (whatever, and whenever, that was) the commoner and middleclass individual was quite often known by his calling or trade. To illustratively, sample a few names, Weaver, Carpenter, Taylor, Clark, Farmer, Miller, Wheelwright, Sawyer and others. Today, the individual, still, is often referred to, valued or described, by his occupation or profession.
It is not only (interactive) society that identifies an individual, in large part, by his profession or class of work, but, significantly, regarding the individual, it is a dominant ingredient in his personal self-image (or, privately held, inner identity). One’s self-image as a Lawyer, Doctor, Clergyman or Shoemaker, colors much of his thoughts and perceptions of others, and, particularly, (to our main point) himself. Such phenomena, like other routine assumptions and behaviors are implicit and durable, in our thoughts, unless interrupted, as by, the presenting, housebound quarantine.
For the identical reason, many people find the stage of retirement, a challenging adjustment. For so many decades, one had, implicitly, associated his personal identity with what he did for a living. Those of us who have been retired for a while, having already made the necessary adjustment, may find homebound quarantine, somewhat less troublesome; most particularly, those who read, and engage in creative, activity.
It may be, that the present health threat will be with us for a while. Those experiencing a sense of disorientation, as noted above, should endeavor to understand that for the referenced reasons, the experience of coronavirus cultural malaise, is, not personal, but, rather, general and widespread. Yet, it is conceivable that the experience may have some utility in the advance understanding of retirement.
We would, enthusiastically recommend, and not merely for the duration of the quarantine, the undertaking of a new interest, or the further pursuit of a previous interest, to acceptably and pleasurably, occupy the time of the quarantine, and, most importantly, thereafter, for the enhancement of his quality of life.