No doubt it's been a trying and chaotic couple of months. We are all experiencing uncertainty and anxiety in the face of a fluid and unpredictable situation. And yet, when we look at the news we are struck by the incredible examples here at home, and around the world, of people, communities and companies leading with their values and behaving in uplifting and inspiring ways. All around us are expressions of cooperation, empathy, appreciation, courage, service to others, gratitude, and a willingness to do the right thing and to hold one’s self and others accountable. These examples are not only inspiring, they are also an expression of our shared humanity and a vision of a way forward.
Real leadership is not about one's position in the hierarchy. It is about how we show up, especially in the face of adversity. Real leaders sense our interdependence in a deep and fundamental way, and it fills them with compassion. Values have next to nothing to do with a plaque in the lobby or a page on the website, and everything to do with our actions. People who are generous value generosity; people who are kind value kindness. It's pretty simple really, and never more evident than in a crisis.
Here are some instances of profound altruism and solidarity that have caught our attention and which bolster our optimism and confidence that together we will weather this pandemic:
A Tony Award-winning actress invited theater kids to share songs from student shows that have been postponed or canceled, and thousands responded.
Community leader and tech CEO Kori Ashton posted a video of herself on facebook singing and playing the guitar and proposed a “Corona Challenge” to other artists and musicians to share videos of themselves doing something creative, too.
A number of people and organizations have launched letter writing campaigns to send messages to elderly neighbors who are stuck inside.
Denver based B Corp Guild Education, together with American Express, launched the #stopthespread campaign to encourage companies to institute work from home policies and support social distancing. Rachel Romer, CEO of Guild Education, explained it this way: “In our democracy we don’t need to wait for the government to mandate it - we can do it ourselves. As business and community leaders, we’re in a unique position to do so.”
In Madrid at 8pm every night residents stand at their windows and perform a standing ovation for health care workers to thank them for their service and sacrifice. Originally these were held at 10pm but children asked to be included and they were moved earlier.
In Italy, balcony performances bring music and joy to communities in the midst of isolation and heartache, and people are hanging homemade signs saying Andrà tutto bene (“everything will be alright”) to encourage their neighbors.
And have you seen the 10,000 Things: An Emergency of Joy crowd-sourced list yet? Here are just a few things people have contributed that bring them joy:
Seagulls cracking open their lunch on the roof
My cat tucking his nose into his paw so he can curl into the tightest ball possible
Dancing in my living room
A hug from Amma
The color yellow
Someone reading you a poem
With COVID19 a collective response - social distancing - is the best protection for each individual. Reducing the risk for each of us requires us all to think about the collective impact of our personal decisions and to consider our interconnectedness.
In ordinary times, we take our cues from other people and research has shown that we are more inclined to do something if others are doing it. The kinds of actions that we have highlighted above help us see these extraordinary times of social distancing and self-quarantining as courageous and selfless acts. They serve to establish new social norms around responsibility to the community, making it more likely that each of us will continue to do the right thing. This is what that “flatten the curve” graphic illustrates so powerfully in a different way.
Each of the actions highlighted above are lovely, hopeful and uplifting. But each of these is also profoundly meaningful. They are bonding communities, creating a sense of belonging and providing positive feedback which makes it easier for everyone to continue to make sacrifices at a time of great need. As the Dutch researcher and philosopher Rutger Bregman writes: “The coronavirus isn’t the only contagion – kindness, hope and charity are spreading too.” And as Rogers and Hammerstein said, with hope in your heart you’ll never walk alone.
So THANK YOU to all of you for setting an example, taking risks to protect all of us, and putting the welfare of the collective first. Thank you for keeping us all safe and for leading with beauty and love. If you are wondering what more you can do - it is as simple as sending a card to a senior home, or dropping off groceries on a neighbor’s front porch. If you have facemasks, gloves and gowns - please donate them to a hospital. What will we do if the doctors and nurses get sick? Closer to home, our students have been deeply disrupted - in some cases the displacement is psychic, but in other cases it is physical too. If you are a business person and have the ability to offer an internship or job there are many students in need. Helping even one person changes the world.