Shanghai Lockdown like a GRC
Updated: May 9, 2022
In the spring of 2022, I find myself like in a Group Relation Conference (GRC) of 900+ members in Shanghai.
I am talking about the lockdown of our compound because of the COVID situation. At the time of writing this blog post, Shanghai has been under lockdown for over 30 days, and it is still counting…. Like those in most other compounds, 900+ residents cannot leave our own though we can move around within it, except for a few days which we could not even step out of own buildings.
When I start to notice how we have been interacting, it is amazing that it looks like a GRC a lot. In terms of setting:
Very Large Study Group (VLSG) - Though residents cannot gather and talk, we interact on a big Wechat group with almost 400 participants.
Small Study Group (SSG) - Residents in each building have their own WeChat groups, with some 20 participants.
Organization Event (OE) - Residents self-organise ourselves into various food group purchase Wechat groups. There are meat group, milk group, vegetables group……etc.
The lockdown also resembles a GRC in terms of dynamics. Some examples here:
Decision Paralysis - Like in the GRC groups, consent is proven to be impossible especially in our VLSG. And attempt to get consent is responded with criticism or ignorance (aka cold criticism) .
Big Group, Big Anxiety - Tension is somehow much higher in VLSG. Some even quitted the big WeChat group in anger and tried to form another one. Some remarks illustrate the tension:
'...I've been invited to a new group... so it is clear people are feeling unheard and thus regrouping outside this big group already...'
'... The big group is too stressed...'
Familiar comment in a GRC, right?
‘Management’ - There is 1 or 2 volunteers in each block who initially helped out communication during COVID test so that it can be done orderly - in particular avoiding too many people waiting and gathering at one time which may spread the virus. Naturally, there is a ‘Block Representative’ WeChat group. Somehow, it evolves gradually into like the ‘Management’, by its own behaviours and perception by others. For example,
The ‘Block Representative’ group started to discuss things beyond running COVID test e.g. criteria to determine what group purchase is allowed or not (given the risk of virus spread into the compound from delivery). From time to time, members sought consent in the group for what he / she proposed, as if the group was mandated to make decision.
Since the property management office is in this Wechat group, the members possess information (e.g. rules in receiving group purchase) earlier than the others or even not available to the others. Information means authority, especially in this highly chaotic situation.
Like the OE in a GRC, some members expressed anger towards the Block Representatives e.g. when a member of the latter shared stories of other compounds got big scale infection out of food delivery.
Leadership Role – Like in a GRC, there is no formal hierarchy among residents. Some volunteer to take lead on things e.g. organize food purchase, liaise with the quiet property management office, organize cooking for the guards, manage chat group. Again, like in a GRC, these informal leaders was attacked. This open exchange on VLSG from an informal leader illustrated:
A resident, “….Of course you are not the No1 enemy, you are our No 1 Compound Representative This is the time you use your influence, and use your power. I surely want to contribute but I’m nobody. I, as many other people in this compound, can’t do anything except counting on you!..’
The informal leader responded, ‘…From day 1, I have said I am just a neighbor volunteer. I do not hold any position or paid to do anything. I share information that I know from other sources. If it is not helpful, I am more than happy to leave this group….’
I believe such attack is caused partly by individuals’ behaviors and partly by the system. We have been in rather high stress environment with lot of unknown including food supply, freedom of movement, family health. In addition, social media is not helping… flooding with horrible video clips on how people suffer in the lockdown.
People (mostly unconsciously) need a real person to place our anger and anxiety to authority which people have no access or dare not to approach. And normally the one who steps up in this ambiguous situation would be given the shots.
At the same time, there is projective identification happening – an informal leader seemed to actually ‘enjoy’ such ‘devotion-despite-betrayal’ heroic role and act more like how the attackers criticized him i.e. subtly ‘showing off privilege’ in information.
Neighbor Relationship – This is less about related to GRC. But I would like to reflect on it given how prominent the phenomenon is. Basically neighbors become much ‘closer’ to each other e.g.
We greet each other more, even for those who never said hi
We ask for, proactively offer and respond to help, especially around food. For example, swapping food or carrying others’ delivery to the door
This is a huge change and it is happening in other compounds as well. I wonder why. First, I guess it is the survival nature - we feel better by sticking together under ‘danger’. Second, residents are kind of stuck with each other, with no end date. Staying isolated from this ONLY choice of group could lead to awkward moment when one later has to ask for help or simply bump into others in the elevator. Third, helping others give us a sense of control, something which we seriously lack and thus causing high anxiety. We have lost control to many things we took for granted:
Will food supply continue?
Do my parents living in another compound have enough food?
Can I or my family see doctor if falling sick?
When will the lockdown end?
Where will I or my family be taken to if COVID positive?
What would happen to our pet?
We cannot even control our own daily schedule as we are called upon in short notice to take COVID test!
Lastly, from a more positive angle, we are in a virtuous cycle. As we taste the benefit of helping each other and being helped, we do more of it.
Though there is so much learning from this episode, I do wish that it can end soon. Wait... but is life itself a GRC?