Don’t be a hostage

March 25, 2020

We have been taken hostage not just by an infectious little spec, but by the considerable power it wields to inflict fear, pain and loss into our lives. For the first time in the lives of many of us we have a gun to our heads, and we are under threat both physically and psychologically. The physical threat is microscopic but plain to see. We better our chances by adopting social distancing strategies; and in this we have a choice to comply or not. And so far, not enough have complied and further lockdown restrictions are required and will be enforced. Is it ‘social loafing’? The concept that members (of society) feel their individual efforts do not matter to the goals of the overall group. Whether that is hoarding, profiteering or general “heedlessness” these are deadly social disorders that are coming home to roost. Hell of a concept to have to learn at a time of unprecedented emergency. Perhaps though, lessons like this are for another day.

Being held a psychological hostage is a different proposition. Our ‘Carer’ who helps look after my disabled daughter is struggling to come to terms with the walls of anxiety that encircle her. How does she keep her own life safe? How can she care for her family? How can she support and protect the disabled families she cares for? How can she cope with the relentless news coverage? Like a vice, the tension is increasingly tightening, and it is difficult for her to find release. For many now facing isolation they may face the same concerns. A psychological hostage: trapped and threatened by our minds with no means of escape.

I would recommend this poignant Tedx talk by the organisational psychologist George Kohlrieser ( He talks of our capacity to become hostages of our own minds and that we have the power to break these shackles if we so choose. There are pearls of wisdom sprinkled all over this speech and I will pick out simply a few:

  • Never be a hostage! Take charge of ourselves and form the mindset that we are resilient, resourceful and that there is still ‘joy’ to be had in our lives. Believe that the party is not over till it is over.
  • Don’t become a hostage to loss! Break the bonds of loss and let grief be a process for getting over things. We will all need to adapt to a new life in the coming months and there is much we must say goodbye to.
  • Find a secure base on which you can find protection. This could be a person, a place or a concept. In Blacklight’s work with businesses we talk about “secure base leadership” – a beautiful idea where senior people in organisations can be a rock for their people in times of high anxiety.
  • Finally, Kohlrieser highlights the very human traits of empathy, dialogue, curiosity, connection and not to assume. These are processes that not only equip us to manage ourselves but may give us the capacity to create those small acts of kindness to others that will make the next few weeks of general isolation bearable.

I take solace from this inspiring speech that we have the capability to prevent ourselves from becoming hostages of the mind and to break free from the confines of fear, pain and loss. But let us not take lightly the massive disruption to our freedoms that we must endure; this is unprecedented. But then let us not be held to ransom; we must accept it; grieve and move on. We must find our secure base, keep talking and remain resolute that the party isn’t over. Keep safe.

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