“We would like the country to realize that as a nation we can’t be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago…” —Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
That is the truth of this moment and what a moment this is. It’s a moment to listen up, pay attention, and follow the guidelines so that those on the frontlines are better able to do their jobs.
Like all of you, I’ve been trying to make sense of the seriousness of this moment and yet also get some perspective as I’ve lived through many big “moments” in my life. The Cuban missile crisis, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the AIDS epidemic, and of course, 9/11.
All of our lives are made up of moments. Some big. Some small. Some inconsequential. Some life defining. Some joy-filled. Some traumatic.
Usually, the moments we experience in our lifetime are deeply personal. The moment you fall in love. The moment your child is born. The moment you get your dream job. The moment someone you love passes away.
It’s rare, however, that we face a collective moment like the one we are experiencing right now. Rarely do we all experience a moment like this simultaneously.
The other day, I was reflecting on this moment in time and how we all seem to be handling it. The conversations I’ve had this last week were all over the map. Some went something like this: “Do you know what’s happening?” "I’m nervous." "I have no way to plan my business." "Do you know when this is going to end?" "Do you know anyone who is sick?" "Are you sick?"
Others went like this: “I’m not nervous at all.” “This isn’t going to get me.” “I’m not scared, but I do have to admit that this is causing chaos at work and at my kid’s school.” “It’s really wild.”
The confusion and fears we all feel right now are real. There is the fear of getting sick. The fear of a loved one who's older or who has health problems getting sick. The fear of how this is affecting the economy, our families, our friends, our communities. That's why this is no time to turn our backs on one another.
Everything that's happened so far has really got me thinking about how we might turn this shared moment into a different kind of moment. A moment not only to talk about our shared fears and anxieties, but also to talk about our shared humanity and vulnerabilities. I’m wondering, can we turn this moment into one where we can unify and come together?
A recent op-ed in The Atlantic called for us all to change our behavior in “radical ways” by canceling everything. But what if the radical change that’s being called for is also an opportunity for us to move closer together? What if it’s a chance for us to cut the distance that already exists between us and begin to see ourselves—all of us—as humans living through the same situation and having the same shared experience? Perhaps this is a moment to
radically come together and practice radical compassion, radical empathy, and radical caring for our fellow human beings. Just thinking about it as a possibility fills me with hope.
I believe this unique moment in history is going to reset our lives in every way. I think it’s going to make all of us think about who, and what, we really need in our lives. It’s going to change the conversation from “wanting” to “needing.” Do we really need to shop the way we do? Spend money the way we do? Work the way we do? Rush around the way we do? Live the way we do? Do we spend our time the way we should with the people we love most? What, at the end of the day, is enough for you? For me? For us?
This is a moment I believe for collective self-reflection, self-assessment, and self-empowerment. I think this will make all of us pause and think about what we value and need most. Five years from now, we could all look back on this moment and say, "That's when I decided X" or "That's when I realized I no longer needed Y." We might look back and say that this is the moment when we realized the fragility of life, as well as the possibility that our lives can affect others in ways we could have never imagined.
So, while everyone is practicing social distancing, perhaps we should also make this a time of practicing social reassurance. Even though we’re physically distancing, what if we each found ways to cut the emotional distance? What if each of us radically changed how we view those who are different from us? Instead of shutting our neighbors out, imagine if we called them up to say hello. What if we gathered up some of that food we grabbed off the grocery store shelves and shared it with someone who couldn’t afford to panic shop? What if we each dug into our interior selves and radically shifted old beliefs that have only added to our divide? What if our radical change in behavior involved all of us actually working together to mend our divide?
Look, I’m all for following the guidelines from the experts in order to keep ourselves safe and healthy, and equally as important, keep our fellow citizens safe and healthy. Our individual actions can impact the health of others and vice versa. But maybe this moment can also be about something else that’s just as big as the pandemic. Maybe it could also be about the virus of hate that’s infiltrated our national conversation. Maybe it could also be about the virus that’s keeping us from being kind to one another.
I, for one, have had enough of the hate virus, the mean virus, and the judgment virus. I’ve had enough of the yelling and the name-calling. It’s infected all of us and made us all sick and tired. But we can radically change our behavior. We can do way more than just wash our hands, use sanitizer, and stay inside. This moment shows us how vulnerable we all are. It shows us how tied we are to one another. It shows us how we are all in this together.
This is a time when “heart-based leadership” is critical and we’re each capable of being those kinds of leaders and healers for each other. It is, I believe, what we need to quiet our anxious hearts and minds. It is the type of leadership that hyper-alert nervous systems respond to well. Leadership that is calm, reassuring, strong and solid. We will get through this global pandemic if we all act responsibly and if we lead with compassion and love. Because the truth is, we really have no other choice.