Like you, I am rattled.
I’m 61 and have type 2 diabetes, putting me in a high-risk group. I’m at home, along with my wife, Leslie, three kids (ages 10, 12 and 14) and two dogs, navigating crowded quarters. My mother, 84, lives thousands of miles away with no family nearby. Even if we were closer, we couldn’t meet in person without unconscionable risk.
The situation is much worse for those who are more vulnerable. Some will face the social distancing mandate alone, knowing that loneliness and social isolation pose grave dangers to health and spirit. Others will lose livelihoods…and loved ones.
No, none of us has lived through anything like this before.
But those of us who have lived through a crisis or two — and I count myself among them — may find a few silver linings.
This crisis should help us develop a deeper empathy for those who are isolated most of the time. Suddenly, many millions of people are being forced to experience the kind of loneliness that has been reserved for much smaller numbers.
The new distancing should bolster appreciation for face-to-face connection. Sure, we’ll learn to use tools like Zoom, Facetime and Google Hangouts — and they will help. But we’ll also see that virtual connection is no substitute for the real thing. As Bill McKibben recently observed in The New Yorker, the coronavirus is bringing with it the realization that “hell is no other people.”
These difficult days can provide a rare opportunity to hold onto these insights and think about how, when all this is over, we can act on them. History tells us that crises often create the conditions for fundamental change. After all, the Great Depression brought us Social Security, World War II produced the GI Bill and a growing middle class.
The current crisis — and its lessons about how much we need each other — could lead to groundbreaking reforms, too.
Now is the time to think big as well as long — to help us better weather the next crisis, for sure. But just as much to help us mend our fraying social fabric, bring us closer together, and produce richer, more meaningful lives, in good times as well as bad.
Stay safe and let me know what you’re thinking!
Marc Freedman is founder and CEO at Encore.org.
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