Today, during one of my Zoom calls, I came to the realization that genuine connections are what will get us through this pandemic healthy and hopeful.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we stop social distancing and quarantining, hand washing and self-care, getting tested if we get sick, and accessing vaccines when these come out, and all the other things that can keep us safe.
Fear, and especially fear of contagions, can encourage us to push others away, to put up stronger boundaries between ourselves and others, and even to seek violent means of self-protection (witness the line-ups outside of gun shops in the US). But to stay healthy as individuals and as members of a larger social organism, we must actually set out to establish deeper connections to other humans. Doing so will bring out the best in each of us and create or strengthen our sense of purpose and community. In fact, connecting with others is in our DNA—we are social animals.
Johan Hari in his Ted Talk speaks eloquently about the fact that our human ancestors survived not because they were the biggest or strongest species, had the sharpest claws or could outrun predators, but because they banded together. We are hardwired to connect to other humans. We are also hardwired to do so in a deeper and meaningful way. Hari persuasively argues that soaring rates of depression, anxiety, and addiction are closely related to a lack of meaningful, genuine connections in many people’s lives. And this was in the pre-COVID-19 era.
So, while it’s important to make eye contact, smile and say hello to others as you walk around your neighbourhood during this crisis, it’s not enough. Checking in with family members is important, but not enough. Staying connected with your work team and your colleagues is helpful… and not enough.
Deeper, authentic connection with other people is necessary. Such genuine connections are deeply satisfying for the soul and positive for your overall mental health.
Many of us resort to small talk to break the ice or fill time in conversations. In Canada, we talk about the weather. If speaking about the sun shining in your window lifts your spirits while you are confined at home with an autoimmune condition, for example, by all means talk about the weather. But we should also strive to go beyond such surface-level talk, to dig deeper to really connect with people we are close to or long to be close to. We can do this by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. With the exception of the tragically misinformed or the pathologically selfish amongst us, all of us are feeling vulnerable in this time of crisis. By allowing our anxieties and fears to be known by others, we deepen our connections. This takes courage.
It takes courage to admit that your children – the people you love the most – are pushing you past your limits as they bounce off the walls during this period of social isolation.
It takes courage to tell a family member that you no longer have a source of income and are overwrought with worry and can’t sleep.
It takes courage to tell a new acquaintance that you have just moved to another part of the country and now are more isolated at a time when you need your family and friends the most.
It takes courage to let others know that someone at work came down with the virus and you are really afraid that you might have it too.
It takes courage to convey to a friend the grief you are feeling because you cannot be by the bedside of your ailing parent while they leave this world.
It is only when we share our vulnerability with each other that we are able to offer genuine care and compassion. While our need for safety is being threatened by an invisible pathogen, we can meet our need for connection in this way.
During this period of uncertainty, I hope you choose to be vulnerable with the people you would like to be close to and show compassion towards yourself and others. I hope you connect to others in meaningful ways and find ways to create and build community. I am convinced that these genuine connections will help to see us through the crisis and be stronger together when it is over.