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Rituals, how the Little Prince helps us to live well in confinement

For doctoral candidates, researchers, supervisors, team leaders and managers: the value of rituals to unite teams.

Over the last few days, our organization and our pace of life have been disrupted, we have lost some of our points of reference. Having quickly adapted to the new requirements, the challenge is to hold out over the long term.

rituals_ABG

Written by Sophie Pellegrin, PhD – Head of Training Department @ABG
Photo credits : Kiki Fernandez, series "O pequeno principe"

Many of the issues we are concerned about right now have to do with time. How long will this situation last? How much delay will our plans take? What are we to do with this time that we suddenly have at our disposal? Working time, personal time, children's time, family time overlap without structure and without clear limits. The risk is that every hour and every day will look the same, each consisting of a little bit of everything that makes up our daily lives.

To cope with this dissolution of time into each other and to help us hold on to it, rituals will be precious to us. They structure time, and the great explorers or solo sailors know how important they are to reach the end of their exploits.

Rituals to structure time...

Many of the issues we are concerned about right now have to do with time. How long will this situation last? How much delay will our plans take? What are we to do with this time that we suddenly have at our disposal? Working time, personal time, children's time, family time overlap without structure and without clear limits. The risk is that every hour and every day will look the same, each consisting of a little bit of everything that makes up our daily lives.

To cope with this dissolution of time into each other and to help us hold on to it, rituals will be precious to us. They structure time, and the great explorers or solo sailors know how important they are to reach the end of their exploits1.

Structuring time is one of the basic needs of the human being2. Thus, a young child whose life is not governed by any regularity, whose every day is different from the previous one, is at risk of developing lasting anxiety. Parents know that rituals are essential for the harmonious development of their children. One of the most famous is undoubtedly the story before going to sleep. Many little ones push the ritual to the point of asking for the same story every night!

As adults, rituals continue to mark out our lives: the pancakes on Sunday morning, the tea time at 5pm, the family dinner; your children's kisses before leaving for work and their little hands waving behind the window; the walk around the office to greet our colleagues on arrival, the discussions around the coffee machine; the yoga, judo, singing class... The work itself is sometimes ritualised as François Jacob describes it.

"With the bacteria and their viruses, which I was working on, we would set up an experiment in the morning. We'd do it in the afternoon. We'd have the result the next morning. Just in time to prepare a new experiment that we would run during the day and so on. »3

To measure the impact of the rituals, it is important to go beyond the simple habits they may at first glance resemble. As the fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince explains, a ritual4 "That's what makes one day different from other days, one hour different from other hours."

Rituals therefore give a particular identity to the days and hours that host them, they are landmarks.

... to anchor positive feelings

Rituals structure time but not only, they also help us to put ourselves in a certain state of mind: well-being, confidence, action, concentration... Sportsmen and women are familiar with this phenomenon, we often see them repeating the same gestures before the start of a race, a service or a shooting according to their speciality. We might think that they have tics. In reality, by this gesture, they revive sensations conducive to their success. To our modest extent, in our daily life as confined people, the fact that we dress in the morning as if we were going to the office or the lab will be conducive to our action for example.

…and to consolidate our social links

Finally, rituals also structure our social bonds and give them strength. As the fox says nicely to the Little Prince who returns to see him the day after their first meeting: "It would have been better to come back at the same time.... If you come, for example, at four o'clock in the afternoon, by three o'clock I will begin to be happy. The earlier the hour goes by, the happier I will feel. At four o'clock I will already be restless and worried; I will discover the price of happiness! But if you come anytime, I'll never know what time to dress my heart..."5 It is this ritualisation of their encounters that will enable the Little Prince to tame the fox.

The health prevention rules in force also undermine our social ties. We find ourselves cut off from each other, kept at a distance. Team leaders and managers know that a team exists when it meets and shares rituals. With distance, maintaining team life becomes a special challenge and again, rituals will help us to re-connect.

concretely, how to do it?

The objective is, on the one hand, to sanctuarize the rituals that can be sanctuarized, those that do us good, that put us in a positive state of mind; on the other hand, to create new ones. These new rituals will allow us to structure our days, to mark the beginning and the end of different times. They can also be an opportunity to set up appointments with ourselves to do what we don't have (enough) time to do usually: meditate, paint, read, exercise...

The new rituals will also re-invent the way we relate to others, the way we interact, the way we work together. It is important that all sensitivities can be taken into account in this re-creation. If you are a supervisor, team leader, manager, you have expectations and preferences. It is essential to make sure that what you put in place meets everyone's needs, otherwise you risk creating a deeper sense of isolation. And beyond collective interactions, maintaining a link with each individual is also of great importance.

When things return to normal, we will be happy to return to some of our old rituals. We may also want to keep some of our newly created rituals. Confinement will thus not only have been an ordeal to go through but also an opportunity to reinvent our way of life.

 

What about you?

  • What are the rituals that are good for you and that are important for you to keep?
  • What are the rituals you have lost and miss? What did they bring you? What could you do instead?
  • Have you created new rituals? What do they allow you to do? What else could you do?
  • If you are a researcher in the Humanities and Social Sciences, you probably have the experience of working at home in relative isolation. What rituals have you instituted? What advice can you give to colleagues from other disciplines?

Come and join us to share your experience and tips on the following platforms:


1 - https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/grand-bien-vous-fasse/grand-bien-vous-fasse-21-mars-2020

2 - Dr Eric Berne, Que dites-vous après avoir dit bonjour ?, Tchou (2006).

3 - François Jacob, La statue intérieure, Odile Jacob (1987).

4 - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry utilise le terme de rite.

5 - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, Gallimard (1999).

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