When president Trump announced that the progression of Coronavirus had escalated to a state of national emergency, things got real, real fast. The reactions that ensued captured the ugliest and the most beautiful parts of humanity, often within the same person over time. The initial response was largely one of self interest. Young people, working professionals and students all had important things to get done and couldn’t afford to socially isolate when they weren’t at risk of death by COVID-19. But that egocentric Western mindset didn’t stick. Instead, a different form of contagion crept in, one more often seen in collectivistic cultures, altruism.
It was as if lightbulb moments were happening in a domino effect. “It isn’t just about me, if I get sick, I’ll live, but who will I infect that may not be so fortunate?” The sacrifice (social isolation for several weeks) suddenly didn’t pale in comparison to the anticipation of such survivor’s guilt. And so, cities began to shut down, hotels and restaurants began to close, taking a huge financial hit, and jobs shifted online. But the spread of altruism did stop there. It continued to grow like wildfire.
The American people saw this as an opportunity to help one another survive a time filled with anxiety and uncertainty. Free online workshops and live opera recordings became available to others, insurance companies lifted the ban on reimbursement for online health services, and somehow we all became more connected despite being mandated to stand 6 feet apart. Social media, a space that often results in social withdrawal despite being predicated on social connectedness, was suddenly serving its intended purpose.
Social media was keeping us all alive, connected, inspired and present. The little moments, like a walk with your dog or a stranger opening a door for you, became experiences to cherish. And the collective mindset shifted away from “what can I have, to what can I give.”
And so I wonder, when the curve flattens out and COVID-19 fades into a distant memory, how can we hold onto such an incredible side of humanity and continue to live from a place of altruism?