5 ways we might help keep community alive
As we deal with COVID-19, concerns about physical health and the capacities of our health care infrastructure appropriately dominate our thoughts and plans. Still, I wonder how this long period of urgent “social distancing” will affect our long-term social fabric.
It’s my hope that social distancing does not always mean social isolation. Surely, we’ll face voids and absences. For example, teaching from home, I know I’ll miss being in the same room with my students as we wrestle with tough issues. Our children will miss the social joys of sports and music performances. Much more importantly, some children will miss the meals and the care they receive at school. Fewer opportunities will exist for the kinds of organic interactions we have with people each day that build good will and understanding. Even if social distancing keeps us medically safe, it might pose psychological danger. I worry that the social fabric will wear thin.
What should we do? To start, we should follow the best advice of reputable medical and public health professionals. That’s non-negotiable. Beyond that, I suggest 5 ways that we might help to keep community alive.
Connect — With strategic social distancing, its crucial to find ways to build social connections with others. Though in the weeks to come you might find yourself tired of work meetings via videoconference, aim to connect with friends and relatives through FaceTime, Zoom, Whereby or other video tools. Host a virtual book club. Check on grandma while you prepare dinner. Grab a drink and have an evening video-chat with a friend across the country. Hugs and handshakes are irreplaceable social connections, but seeing each other move about in our homes can help maintain the social fabric and a sense of connection.
Give — This crisis will affect some more than others. For many, school closings mean missed meals, for example. This pandemic offers a chance to support those in need. In my community, organizations like TABLE and PORCH work to minimize the impacts of this crisis on those facing food insecurity. If you’re not sure how to help, contact your local school’s social workers. They are wonderful people with a deep understanding of how this crisis plays out among some of our most vulnerable populations. We can make a difference by giving time or money. And, importantly, we can remind ourselves that — even in the face of harmful, unpredictable, and invisible health threats — we can exercise positive agency and rely on community.
Unplug — As instruction moves online, meetings move online, and much of our time is spent inside our homes adjacent to readily available screens, we should be cognizant of what we do with our downtime. Innumerable studies suggest that too much screen time can contribute to poor mental health (see, e.g., this study). So, while we should absolutely find times to FaceTime with friends and family, we might want to limit our social media and find alternatives to using our phones for fun. Board games? Art? Books? Exercise…
Move — Part of my social distancing means avoiding the gym. Will that mean time spent on the couch? Probably. My daughter just introduced me to The Good Place, and I fully intend to enjoy every moment of this hilarious show. Nonetheless, we all need to move. Sedentary + concerned for the fate of the planet is not a recipe for positive mental health. I plan to take walks, set my step count a few thousand higher, and hop on the bike a bit more often. Biking is a great example of an activity that necessarily entails social distancing. Hurray for spring’s warmer weather!
Thank — Almost inevitably, these kinds of events offer silver linings. Yet, in the face of illness, economic strife, and widespread uncertainty, it can feel uncouth to discuss the positive aspects of this one-in-a-lifetime event. Yet, perhaps it can help us all to be thankful for the little gifts this crisis brings. For me, I’ve noted that I get to work at home with my dog, Moose. He’s a constant joy. And the forced cancellation of (so far!) 8 consecutive weeks of travel has offered me some flexibility of scheduling I rarely enjoy. Naming and speaking these silver linings feels good for the psyche. What are your silver linings?
Naming my own silver linings has the extra benefit of helping me to be aware of those who don’t share the same situation. We can all band together to support our local small businesses, health care workers, those who don’t have the luxury to distance themselves, etc. It’s my hope that the end of this crisis finds our social fabric more tightly woven than it was before.