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On Traffic Lights and Gaslighting

A few days ago, driving back from the grocery store, I experienced something that never fails to send a susurration of fear into my throat. This particular road consists of 5 lanes, two on each side with a turn lane between. In the far right lane, I approach an intersection with a functioning stop-light. From quite some distance, I note the following true things:

  1. There is a car in the lane nearest me, heading the same direction.

  2. That car, the only other car traveling with me, is stopped at the light.

  3. The light is green.

As I approach and then pass the stopped car, I become increasingly tentative, slowing and then almost creeping under the light, scanning the intersection with the uncanny sensation that I am doing something wrong.

It's only a moment, yet the cognitive dissonance is profound. The reality, of course, is that I was doing nothing wrong. I was reading the signs and drawing all the right conclusions, yet the feeling of my wrongness - and the related danger I was putting myself in - persists. How could this usually reasonable course of action create such an instant and indelible feeling of danger?

Not all that coincidentally, this is how I feel most days as I read the latest reports on the progress of the virus in our county. Clearly, the situation has worsened here, and dramatically so. There is no question of rising case numbers, rising deaths, community spread, or any other factor that points to the situation as it is. The light is green.

Despite that, all around me are people sitting still at those lights. Relaxing restrictions, opening camps, removing unemployment protections, socializing, and shopping. Some are masked during these activities; others are defiantly not. And there I am, cruising through the intersection, which in this case means staying home, staying away, staying in a mode of protection.

The feeling in the pit of my stomach is constant, and it is powerful. It flutters to the surface every time I am made to feel foolish for insisting that true things are true. That the light is green. That people are dying. No one is openly arguing with me; no one disputes the reality of the situation, or at least, not exactly. They just behave as if that truth doesn't matter, that is doesn't affect them, or maybe that it shouldn't affect me. It's like the whole world is gaslighting me.


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