I sat down to write something about the need to take care of one another during this mess. April Fool’s felt like the appropriate time for me of all people to pen something somber and serious. Only, as I got to writing, it progressively got too somber—too disheartening. Writers sometimes have to be careful what words they unleash upon the world, because truly it’s out of our control once we do.
So, I’m going to pull back from quoting Jung and talking about the seriousness of this moment in time. I think the seriousness is self-evident for all by now—even for those it wasn’t mere days ago. No, instead I’m going to talk about what we need from one another right now and it isn’t toilet paper (well, some of us may need toilet paper but surely not in the quantities many have hoarded).
What we need now is connection with one another. I talk to students about this a lot since I teach communication. Students today want to do everything via tech. Even in class they want to hide behind their laptop or phone. And yet, as classes transition online so many are desperate for connection. This is not surprising as despite social media keeping us in contact at all times, we feel less connected than ever.
Companies that have largely succeeded online have done so in recent years by cultivating a community around their brand. It’s not just a website, but a community that you can belong to. As church attendance falls worldwide, people are looking for others to connect with. What happens when all social interaction is forced online?
Well, we know that physical touch is of high importance to children. Babies in a Romanian orphanage who were denied physical contact grew up not only with emotional issues, but with physical ones as well. Other studies have shown much the same effect with foxes denied interpersonal contact. Mammals, especially their young, need touch. For some, that’s just not realistic with warnings to stay six feet apart.
But it’s not just physical interaction we need. As noted above with online interaction, we crave and even need social interaction. Deny it to someone long enough and it’s not just their mental health we have to worry about, but physical as well.
So, what’s my point? That the coming weeks and months are going to be very dark for lots of people. Let’s not sugarcoat it—many people are going to die. Businesses are going to close, and jobs are going to be lost. Some people who rely on work or one person for that social connection are going to suddenly discover it’s gone. You can already see this effect in how much more active social media has been over the last week. People are grasping out.
I’m not a counselor and I don’t pretend to be particularly socially skilled. But one only needs to consult a list of the top causes of suicide to see social isolation, job loss, trauma, and financial problems near the top of the list. That’s the extreme, right?
None of this is to depress or scare you. It is to remind you that getting through this will require more than toilet paper. It will require genuine human concern for your friends, family, coworkers, and others. When we say we’re all in this together, it doesn’t just mean the single line open at Walmart. Reach out. Care for one another. Make the phone call to a friend you haven’t spoken to in months or years. Get in touch with the strongest person emotionally that you know, because they can’t simply give all the time. Check-in with your neighbor—elderly or not. Chat via Zoom. Send an email. Grasp back.
Mr. Rogers famously told us to look for the helpers in times like this, but I think another lover of puppets has the better creed for our times.
“Please watch out for each other. Love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life. Enjoy it.” – Jim Henson