You just witnessed an attempted coup.
Have you been staring blankly at your computer screen for hours? Is your heart pounding? Are your hands shaking as you type? Is your mind racing while you try to focus on a task you’d find simple on any other day?
That’s because you just witnessed an attempted coup.
Sit with that for a second.
Do not feel guilty about getting nothing done today. Your brain is doing its best to process having watched seditionists storm the United States Capitol building on your Twitter feed. Your brain has enough on its plate without meeting that deadline or engaging in small talk during a Zoom meeting. This is not a normal work week.
Allow me to repeat myself. To anyone beating themselves up for not being more productive: WE JUST WITNESSED AN ATTEMPTED FUCKING COUP. YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE TO WORK RIGHT NOW. THIS IS NOT A NORMAL WORK WEEK.
On Wednesday I sat on my sofa and refreshed my Twitter feed over and over again, desperately trying to understand what was happening in DC. Information passed by without context. A blurry video of a woman on the ground, bleeding from the neck. Photos of Senators hiding behind benches and evacuating the Chamber in gas masks. A TikTok of what appeared to be a police officer moving aside a barricade to allow the mob closer to the Capitol building.
Then there were the images of thugs sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s office, feet up on her desk. Confederate flags hoisted over shoulders, Nazi references on dirty sweatshirts, nooses hung against a gray sky. That indelible shot of the man standing on the daïs at the center of the House Chamber, his fist raised triumphantly.
Reports of pipe bombs. Rumors of shots fired. Men toting rifles in the halls. It seemed like we might hear news of an assassination at any moment. For hours we sat suspended on the edge of bloody violence. That is an acute and powerful blend of fear.
The events of Wednesday were surreal, unbelievable, and yet not surprising at all. Anyone who spends much time online knew this was coming. But when it arrived, when Trump flags replaced American flags on the Capitol and traitors surged up its steps like so many animated corpses in a zombie movie, it was impossible to make sense of.
Useless and shocked in Brooklyn, I turned on PBS and chewed my nails. Judy Woodruff read a transcript of the President’s insane video statement off her cell phone. There was nothing I could do but watch the coup unfold, my body pulsing with adrenaline and anticipation of worse to come.
If you’re anything like me, you experienced Wednesday in much the same way. Maybe you were at your desk, or with your kids, or in a business call with one eye on your phone reading push notifications. Events like those in DC disrupt everything, plunging our bodies and minds into terror. That level of fear and tension requires more than an uneasy night’s sleep to lift. It’s why you feel like shit today, disoriented and distracted. We are a nation traumatized after an already terrible series of events that have drained us of resilience. A pandemic, a summer of racist violence, a brutal Presidential election, and now this.
Go easy on yourself. You are running on empty. As Anne Helen Peterson put it in her spectacular newsletter, “What is happening in the world around you, and the grief you feel because of it, is so much more important than your ability to complete a task or respond to an email.”
In an ideal world you wouldn’t have to work through this feeling, this powerful tidal wave of horror and grief. It’s a sick and unnecessary practice of our work culture that we are not allowed to set aside our tasks during a crisis. Our bodies need rest, even when our jobs don’t allow it.
If you’re a boss: cancel everything. Push back the deadlines. Let people log off. This is not a moment to fret over decreased productivity. Your employees are your greatest asset, and they need you to leave them alone. This is not a normal work week. Cancel everything you possibly can.
And, a warning: none of us are going to feel much better after the weekend. This kind of national trauma takes weeks to heal, not an unplugged Sunday afternoon. For quite some time, business as usual is over.
Business as usual is overdue for a transformation anyway, don’t you think?
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