As Israel is emerging out of what is considered the first COVID-19 wave, the world is assessing its wounds, while many still in quarantine, in a health crisis that is yet on the rise.
We watch as it becomes clear that nothing is clear. Our reactions so far have been emergency-driven, immediately planned and quickly executed. Even chaotic at times. We handled painful furloughs and layoffs, we delivered food and medicine to isolated elderly, we canceled and shut-down programs as was necessary. But we also learned how resourceful and creative we can be when reality disrupts our professional routine.
If we were to assess the effectiveness of the initiatives we developed and delivered over the past three months, we might be surprised to discover how successful they really were. We strengthened relationships within our communities, we enhanced its cohesion, and engaged members in social actions and in virtual programing. Those who continued service and maintained relationships with their cohorts and consumers, found refreshing ways to reconnect. They sustained their communal presence and vitality at low or no cost, using online methods. Ironically, many people felt they talked to one another even more than usual during this time of crisis.
Why is that?
Because compassion and passion always work, and they were the fuel for most of our recent work. We tuned into real needs, and the response was direct and immediate. We skipped long stages of writing and reading detailed proposals, reviewing reports and matrixes. We were even, G-D forbid, emotionally driven… In pre-Corona days, our recent actions and programing may not have met expected professional standards and procedures. But were we less efficient? Did we have paltry participation compared to face-to-face meetings? On the contrary… Because they were much more accessible, they were much better attended.
As a social worker, there is nothing I value more than a meaningful encounter with others. However, I have learned that in addition to face-to-face meetings, we can also create a culture of meaningful encounters online. If used in a sensible and balanced way, zoom or related platforms can be more productive. We save travel time, we can interact with the speakers in the background without interfering, we have leveled the geographic playing field. We just need to follow a few guidelines, which adhere to basic human needs for a meaningful connection and belonging.
The past three months have taught us few lessons on how to enhance connectivity while engaging virtually. For example, we have learned that zoom meetings which had a smaller number of participants who knew each other, were more likely to be engaged and committed. The perceived value of the call and being motivated by a shared interest contributes to its success. The opportunity for mutual participation, for everyone to express themselves also increases the likelihood for effective virtual meetings. It is clear that when people feel accountable to one another, they remain on the call for its duration and are fully present. Virtual connections that inspired with a short spiritual learning, or that touched hearts by encouraging personal reflections, have stimulated an even more engaged discussion after. We often shun ourselves from being too personal or emotional in professional meetings, but emergency times prove once again how much strength people gain from a more humanistic approach. Why should we not embrace this as we resume regular operations?
Now is the time to pause and digest what we have experienced in this pandemic crisis. I often hear “we are together in this crisis, we are all in the same boat“, but truly we are not. We may all face the same Corona Virus Storm, but it finds each one of us on a different kind of boat, equipped with different coping mechanisms. A person facing COVID-19 at home alone, isolated by him or herself is different than a couple or a family facing it together. If a spouse or couple have lost their jobs, they are affected differently than those who maintain regular income, and who might even enjoy the forced break from a hectic routine. Families with young children closed at home for weeks, poverty, disability, or domestic violence… Be sure the boats we sail on through this storm are completely different.
Sustaining kindness and compassion is needed even more now, when we face our wounds and strive to heal them. We should spend time understanding how the pandemic affected people’s life, and appreciate “the different boats” our associates and community members are sailing on. Those who have been let off from work are hurt and alone. Those who stayed, fear the unknown. We should be talking to them both, even if there is not much to say.
Ensuring ongoing dialogue with our teams, committees, and program participants is a connecting process that instills trust and assurance. There is nothing more respectful at times like this for leadership to not only deliver messages, but also listen, while ensuring a safe and healthy environment to speak up. Incorporating open dialogue into our organizational culture will enhance true connectivity and belonging, which reflects solidarity at its best. Leadership that is connected, aware, and well-informed can calibrate better and more responsibly. Perhaps even more creatively, as we know that the wisdom is in the crowd.
This springtime resembles a transitional season that is not only exhibited in nature, but is also reflected in our personal lives, in our organizations strive for gradual adaptation, and our hesitant attempts to assess and plan towards stability. We may still be clinging to operating in an emergence mode, continuing with what has proven to be necessary and effective. But also attuning it around a strategy with long term milestones, to give everyone a well needed hope. As Yonatan Geffen once wrote: We may not have the answers to all the questions, as nobody knows what a new day brings. What matters is that the day has come. It is time for the big hope where on a clear day one can see forever…