Will this pandemic experience lead to a renewed commitment to community? Hindsight may be 20/20, but I don’t think we will learn the value of community simply by looking back on this time if we haven’t learned to do things that build community during it.
Social media fills us with reassuring messages that we’re not alone, but these slogans leave us empty when our experience of loneliness or sorrow persists. If we want a more durable kind of togetherness, we have to put the work into building it.
New York Times columnist David Brooks notes the distinction between what he refers to as social connection and social solidarity. The proliferation of #weareinthistogether and #alonetogether are prime examples of social connection. The internet is tailor-made for broadcasting social connection through wide but often vague gestures. We need calls to action, but it’s not always clear what actions we’re being called to.
Expressions of social connection run the risk of becoming false advertising if we lack genuine social solidarity to back them. Solidarity, as Brooks defines it, is an “active virtue.” It is active because solidarity is a matter of doing, not simply feeling. And it’s a virtue in that it arises from a deep, interior dimension. If we dig a bit into both parts of Brooks’ equation, we’ll find two practical suggestions for how to cultivate solidarity during this time.
Active: Pandemics are overwhelming. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, grocery stores are overwhelmed by product demand, our news feeds are overwhelmed with updates. We are overwhelmed. It’s hard to know where to start.
From the New York Times’ “All of the Ways You Can Help” to Grotto’s own list of ways to assist your neighbor, there are plenty of resources on specific things we can do. The first step is to take a small step. Choose something manageable and build from there, whether it’s sending a card by snail mail to someone living alone, or making a donation to a local food bank. The important thing is to start. And then keep going. Community, both physical and virtual, doesn’t come from a one-off photo op. Community is built by showing up, time and again.
Virtue: If the fruit of solidarity is outward action, its roots drink from deep, interior wells of gratitude and compassion.
If we are learning anything in this time as a society, perhaps it is gratitude — gratitude for aptly described “essential” workers, gratitude for health care professionals, gratitude for those who provide us with accurate information. Gratitude is the discipline of celebrating the often unnoticed social glue that connects us to each other.
But community, of course, isn’t only about giving thanks for the joy that others add to our lives. Community also moves us to compassion for others — that is, a willingness to sit with them in their loss. We’ve all had experiences of loss in this time — from the loss of plans, to the loss of a job, to the loss of loved ones. Rather than mourn in isolation, our own losses — from the mundane to the profound — can be invitations to grow in sensitivity for the daily realities of others.
Because, after all, it is true: #weareinthistogether. Let’s commit to acting that way. Then we’ll all have something to give thanks for.