There is a quote by the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh: “When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.” If everyone is panicked and you have one person who can think clearly, you can turn to that person to regulate the group. Emotion is contagious. We are social beings, and that means we are looking to our group for clues on how to understand the situation and how to respond. This emotional contagion can be helpful or it can be destructive.
Each person can provide leadership to the frightened people around them just with a willingness to maintain equanimity, an encouraging and optimistic view, and a confident pursuit of caring for themselves and others. We all need encouragement and we all need to find ways to strengthen ourselves. We can be deliberate about using our sources of strength. And then we can turn to the other people around us and provide that same strength and encouragement we have nurtured in ourselves. The thing is, we can do it on purpose. We can recognize the power of emotional contagion to strengthen each other instead of frighten each other.
“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” –Robert Louis Stevenson