All The Other Things

The loss of peripheral perception—often called “tunnel vision”—is a common affliction faced by people in the midst of a disaster.

It makes sense that if your home is torn apart by a tornado and you’re searching for loved ones in the rubble, that your brain and body might help you achieve a state of ultra-focus, literally reducing your range of perception to eliminate possible distractions.

This can sometimes be a helpful superpower, especially in short bursts.

But like anything that intense and limiting, you wouldn’t want it to last longer than a few minutes. Yes, it’s important to focus on a very few, survival-related components of your environments in some circumstances, but to lack broader perspective in the long-term is far less desirable—even dangerous, at times.

A lack of more complete situational awareness can leave us exposed to future dangers. Tunnel vision can help us solve the problem of the moment, but it may cause us to stumble into a downed electrical cable or fail to notice that we have a cut that needs disinfecting and bandaging.

A temporary, increased depth of perception in one direction can be beneficial, but a complete lack of breadth of perception can be just as harmful as what our bodies are trying to help us overcome.

That surge in adrenaline can also leave us wrung out, worn down, and depleted.

We’re capable of impressive feats of strength, memory, and cleverness when we’re granted this level of intensity. But those amped up attributes come at a cost: physiological, but also mental.

All the other things that make life worth living, the people we care about, the goals we have, the tweaks we’d like to make to our lives and to the world, and the seeds we’ve planted—literal and figurative—tend to fall by the wayside when we’re under the influence of tunnel vision.

It’s prudent, though, to spare a thought, spare some time, spare some functional brain and muscle power, for these other aspects of life. These are the things that make us who we are, both as individuals and as societies.

Yes, it’s important that we retain an of awareness of the disaster unfolding around us. And yes, it’s important that we maintain the rituals and habits we’ve had to learn and introduce, at times with much difficulty, into our lives and way of thinking in order to stave off some of the worst effects of that disaster.

Thinking about things that exist outside of that ongoing state of preparedness, though, is vital for our sense of health and our sense of self.

Learning, loving, feeling inspired, being curious, entertaining ourselves, challenging ourselves, aspiring to things beyond our current capabilities, experiencing the full range of human emotion, and becoming—every day—a better version of who we were yesterday; these are all priorities, alongside hand-washing and social distancing. It’s just that their benefits are measured differently, and we’re less likely to be reminded of their importance, day to day.

There are legitimate fears and concerns to be feeling right now, and it’s rational to be prepared and aware and to have a healthy respect for the threat we face.

What’s important, though, is that we sometimes take off our blinders and allow ourselves to start thinking about what exists on the periphery of our vision, again. That we turn our heads from time to time, to look away—not ignore or discount, but simply change our focus—and think about other things; even if just for a little while.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.

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