By Cindy Chadwick
It is an unusual time. With the stress, and fear, and grief that many are feeling, it may be too soon to talk about opportunity. Yet there are opportunities presenting themselves each day, many of which will not stick around forever. One of these opportunities is changing how we relate to one another.
In a time of crisis, normal routines are suspended. One of the advantages of losing our routines is that we can no longer “slide smoothly along observational ruts” (John Stilgoe, Outside Lies Magic). Escaping our ways of seeing means we can notice new things and that we can see familiar things in a new light. What we pay attention to is always our choice, but disrupted routines help us remember that, and perhaps make new choices. For many, the things that we’ve always said matter most—family, health, relationships—are now foremost in our minds and it seems like more of us are paying attention to the things that matter. With this refocusing of attention, tremendous possibilities emerge.
In a recent podcast, “The Ethics and Emotions of the Coronavirus Emergency,” community worker David Robinson proposed that we have the opportunity now, in the next 3-6 months especially, to recalibrate how we think about risk and trust. He asks, “Will we go back to stranger danger” or are there new ways of relating?
At the macro level, some hopeful possibilities are emerging. Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces For the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, writes in Politico: “The coronavirus pandemic marks the end of our romance with market society and hyper-individualism…when this ends, we will reorient our politics and make substantial new investments in public goods—for health, especially—and public services.” In the same article, Ai-Jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, predicts there will be growing support for Universal Family Care: “a single public federal fund that we all contribute to, that we all benefit from, that helps us take care of our families while we work, from child care and elder care to support for people with disabilities and paid family leave.” Our ideas about care—what it means, why it matters, and whose responsibility it is—could shift from this shared experience. As Klinenberg says, “I don’t think we will become less communal. Instead, we will be better able to see how our fates are linked.”
Some hopeful possibilities are emerging at the local level too. Alameda County’s most recent Health Order, enforced on April 22, requires face coverings to be worn in most circumstances outside the home. This order acknowledges the fact that our behavior affects the health of others. This has always been true, but it seems more real now, more personal. Wearing a face covering is not just about taking care of myself; it is a signal to others that I care about their health and that of our community. Face coverings and physical distancing are acts of social solidarity; they are about keeping you safe, as well as me. It’s fascinating that public health is, for the first time in my life, something I think about. How might this shift in my attention change what I care about and how I view my responsibilities?
At the risk of using the term too soon, this is a time of great opportunity. How might we expand our understandings of care and responsibility? How might we shift our relationships with one another to more fully express this care? What changes could this very unusual time create in you?