April 1, 2020 by Stacey S. Joseph, CDP, ODCP, MBA for ImpactEDI™
Last year this time, Spring Break, Madi Gras, theNational Cherry Blossom Festival, the Argentinian Grape Harvest Festival, Carnevale Viareggio, the Mexican Spring Equinox, the Chinese Lantern Festival, London Fashion Week, and countless global celebrations all went off without a hitch. Locally, and globally, we took for granted our usual sense of community, and the term ‘social-distancing’ was not yet a part of the global lexicon.
Under the current ‘Shelter-in-place,’ ‘social-distancing,’ and quarantine guidelines, many of us have been feeling and expressing feelings of isolation and aloneness. This may be attributed to the fact that during times of personal crisis, we tend to forget that one of the most intrinsic characteristics of being human, is our stalwart interconnectedness. Though we may not keep it top of mind, all of us have experienced this sense of interconnectedness. It can happen when we are by ourselves walking on the beach, at the water’s edge. We look out at the vast ocean and realize that we are a part of something grand. Perhaps we’re out for a walk on a moonlit night and we look up at the scars and realize that someone somewhere, at the very same moment is looking up at the same sky. More often it’s an intimate moment with someone we love that makes us feel so connected, that we gain a sense of awareness that life is as it should be. In such moments, it’s likely that any sense of anxiety diminishes, and we fully understand that we are a part of a greater and exquisite, universal energy. In times of shared crisis, our interconnectedness becomes more evident. Yet, it may not be as easy for us to shift from a personal crisis response of feeling alone, to a shared/collective crisis response of being in this together. Below are ten things that can help us tap into that universal energy of interconnectedness, and create community in a time of social-distancing.
Ten Things You Can do to Create Community During ‘Social Distancing’
- Group/Family Virtual Check-ins. Plan check-in days, several times a week, with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors etc. These can be short check-ins that reinforce togetherness and community. Text-trees are also great for more frequent/quick check-ins. You can also create a text tree and promote your text tree on social media, and encourage social media friends/contacts to provide their information and participate (if need be) in a call to action.
- Shift from asking “How are you doing?” to asking “How are you feeling?” Because the rote responses to “How are you doing?” are usually some version of “Fine” or “I’m good,” asking how someone is feeling gives them a moment to recognize their emotional state. Our emotional state profoundly influences every aspect of our lives, yet many of us aren’t aware of how we’re feeling at any given moment or what the impact may be. Emotions are a form of energy, forever seeking expression. When we invite others to name their emotions and speak about their feelings, we’re making space for them to diffuse their the emotional charge [if need be] and lessen the burden that less than positive emotions can create. If the emotions are good emotions, asking “how are you feeling?” will make space for encouragement and shared upliftment.
- “Look for the helpers!” Fred Rogers coined the phrase ‘look for the helpers.’ It was something that his mother would tell him when he was a boy and witnessed scary things. He was comforted by realizing that there are “so many helpers – so many caring people in the world.” Recognizing and celebrating the helpers can be a comfort to us all. It can also ignite the spirit of paying it forward.
- Keep up to date on local guidance. You certainly don’t have to inundate yourself with information, but you’ll need to stay on top of pertinent information. Whether it’s about restricted shopping hours for seniors at the local grocer, staying informed about ‘shelter-in-place’ restrictions, or keeping track of how close we are to “flattening the curve,” obtaining information and local guidance from credible and accurate sources is a responsibility that we all have to the collective. For tracking the global outbreak, there are several news sources. The New York Times is one of the most notable.
- Launch a community support team. We typically don’t think of leadership as “collaborative,” though it certainly is. Leading during times of crisis makes it clear to all of us that no leader should be in this alone. Now is a great time to amp up your steering committee and invite new members of any team i.e. family, community, work etc. to step into leadership roles and help sustain and support the group through the Coronavirus crisis. This sub team can be in charge of tracking information related to the crisis, communicating with membership, formulating a plan to check in and support each other. In particular, with so many parents now placed in the roles of teaching through virtual/’at home schooling’, this is an essential time that we all see ourselves as the village who provides additional support for families with children. After all, as Ben so poignantly writes in his journal entry – “Homed School” – “It is not going good.”
- Lean in and learn more about others. You’ll find that the stress of disaster/crisis brings people closer together. Social connection is particularly important amid stressful events because stress naturally leads to a sense of vulnerability. Understanding our shared vulnerability — “tomorrow is not promised” — may certainly be frightening, but it can inspire kindness, connection, and a strong desire to stand together and support each other. Right now is the perfect opportunity to experience the most beautiful aspects of life: social connection and love. Take time to have a conversation with someone with whom you typically would not. Reach out to a FB friend, or Linkedin Connection, or someone you follow on the Gram and suggest that you meet for a virtual cup of coffee or tea. Jump on a zoom call with the intention to share your thoughts about what is challenging and/or inspiring you during this time.
- Collective Memorialization*. Collective memory refers to the shared pool of memories, knowledge and information of a social group that is significantly associated with the group’s identity. Never has there been an event of this magnitude in our lifetime. It would be nice to be able to memorialize the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and events that will forever make up our shared pool of memories. This can be accomplished by collecting news articles, collective letter writing, group journaling, anthologies, personal photos etc. Having hard copies of these items would be nice to place in a cherished wooden box as a keepsake, they can be scrapbooked, or published. A digital collective memorialization saved to a USB flash drive or ‘cloud’ time capsule will also suffice.
- Learn How to ‘Hold Space.’ ‘Holding space’ means to be with someone without judgment. To donate your ears and heart without wanting anything back; To practice empathy and compassion; To accept someone’s truth, no matter what they are. It means to put your needs and opinions aside and allow someone to just be. When we ‘hold space’ it means we come in, and with, neutral support; allowing our heart to simply be open to and for others. This can be especially healing when someone is expressing fear or ‘catastrophizing.’ Rather than feel a need to reason with them, find solutions, or ‘talk them down,’ we can simply ‘hold space.’ Doing so, can deepen our trust, validate our being (not necessarily our feelings). Holding space is also a catalyst for creating and nurturing safe spaces of belonging.
- Practice Self-Care. It’s always important to practice self-care. Practicing self-care is key in maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many of the ways in which we do this i.e. going to the gym, getting together with friends, or congregating, are currently unavailable to us. Practicing stillness through meditation, self-soothing, and ‘allowing’ are great ways to care for yourself during this time. The benefits of these practices can be felt by being in a state of presence where we remain connected to ourselves and are completely present in our body. We are at one with everything, and everyone in all that we do. We have an obligation to the collective and those around us to be well. When we waiver, we can be forgiving of ourselves and others. We’re all just doing our best, and by committing to our personal wellness, we are doing our part to contribute to the collective wellness. This is also the perfect moment to teach children about self-care and the importance and value of stillness. “If you can’t go outside, go inside.” (see what I did there?)
- Find Enjoyment. There is a tendency, during times of crisis, to feel a sense of guilt if we allow ourselves to find/feel a sense of enjoyment. Enjoying ourselves doesn’t mean that we are divorced from the reality of this global catastrophe. It simply means that we acknowledge that during burdensome and trying times, there is still goodness around us. Listening to music, dancing, or partnering with friends for virtual karaoke can boost our endorphines and reduce stress. Online museum tours, online concerts, and virtual bookclubs can be additional sources of communal enjoyment. There is no better time than now, to take time for more hugs, crafts, cooking, baking, laughing, or whatever it is that you delight in.
Please share in the comments some of the ways that you and your loved ones are finding ways to create community during this time? Remember, we’re in this together!
Photo Credits: Balcony Concerts –Italy Magazine; Fred Rogers – USA Today 2019; Wooden Box – Shutterstock
*The Washington Heights Memoir Project is one such Collective Memorialization in progress. The collective project is open to emerging & professional writers of ages 12 and up and abilities. Aligned with Dominican Writer’s mission to elevate local narratives and stories, the WHMP helps amplify local voices through an array of writing tools, along with the professional development needed for writers to publish on their own.
The WHMP will include current and past Dominican residents of Washington Heights/Inwood neighborhoods including youth with similar artistic pursuits in order to create an archive of our experiences living and or working in the Washington Heights/Inwood area. Submissions will be included in an anthology to be published by end of 2020.
Stacey Joseph is a certified D&I Practicioner for ImpactEDI™- a social benefit startup that partners with organizations to ensure equity through diversity, inclusion, and creating safe spaces of belonging. She’s a regular contributor to the ImpactEDI™ blog. During the Covid-19 crisis, Stacey, who is an avid hugger, is staunchly practicing social-distancing. In her efforts to create community during social-distancing, she schedules daily check-in calls with family members and friends, has virtual tea or coffee with Linkedin connections, and will be providing free online guided meditation sessions (to be announced on ImpactEDI™’s social media pages). She’s also enjoying trying new recipes, and making “cringeworthy” Tik Tok videos with her son.