Humans rely on their social connections to other humans for health and happiness, especially in times of distress. With 20% of the global population currently on coronavirus lockdown and even more practicing social distancing, these necessary human connections have had to undergo a seismic shift—moving from the physical world to the virtual one. In the U.S., we see this in the massive increase in phone calls, text messages, social media use, and online video conferencing. Verizon recorded 800 million phone calls per day in March, which is double the amount on the busiest days of the year.
At this macro level, the shift from physical contact in the real world to virtual contact through technology has had, and will have, societal and individual consequences for years to come. But, not all of those consequences are necessarily (or need be) negative.
At a micro level, as I’ve seen in my personal life and client work, another cultural shift is happening: We are reassessing our values, recognizing the importance of authenticity and love in our social connections, and stepping away from our hyper-achievement and success-focused culture. We’re stripping away the inconsequential, the superficial, the drive for “perfection;” we are being more honest and less judgmental, to ourselves and others. We are also overcoming our self-limiting beliefs and self-doubt as we reach out to others in comfort and solidarity. And it’s changing how we connect with each other online and over the phone.
A More Authentic Digital World
Like for many of you, my life has become detached from the physical world. I’m having drinks with buddies on Zoom, chatting with my boss on Google Hangouts and texting up a storm with my dad and sister. — Shira Ovide, in her column ‘On Tech’ in the New York Times.
During this pandemic, many of us are experiencing this increase in digital contact. Many of us are also noticing the quality of the contact shifting– toward more immediate, personal and real.
Beneath the surface, there is something even more promising: these external changes are shifting our internal stories, overcoming our self-limiting beliefs and allowing us to take different actions than we did previously. Before the pandemic, many of us had insecurities about reaching out to others; reaching out could make us feel vulnerable and unsure. How often did we stop ourselves from making contact with excuses like, “Maybe my reaching out will feel like a burden” Or “What if I’m the one who cares about the friendship more than they do?” Or “I haven’t talked to them in so long, it might seem odd that I’m calling and that will be awkward.”
Pre-pandemic, more energy was directed toward presenting an image of hyper-achievement and high-status—whether or not that was the reality of our lives. Many of us felt insecure about self-presentation, falling victim to self-limiting beliefs like “I’m not successful enough to contribute” or worries that our face/house/lifestyle/family weren’t as Instagram-perfect as our friends’ and colleagues’. Insecurities like these often kept us from showing and sharing our authentic selves, compounded by the familiar refrain, “I’m the only one who feels this way.”
Now, a great, culture-wide lowering of barriers to communication—including overcoming our self-limiting beliefs—is occurring in a way that is new and unprecedented. For the moment, the stigma of loneliness and isolation is gone and we feel freer to share our real experiences. What are we saying to ourselves now instead of that voice of self-doubt? “I wonder if they are safe and healthy.” And “I’m sure they would appreciate knowing that I’m thinking of them.” And even, “Maybe if we talk we could unload some stress or anxiety about this crazy situation.”
While they may not seem remarkable in and of themselves, these micro shifts are the seeds for larger change. When we feel compassionate on the inside, we act more tolerant and generous on the outside. When we act with compassion, other people act with compassion, creating an up-spiral of authenticity, acceptance, tolerance, and love. When we do this in our own lives, we develop the capacity to bring this into our communities and into the world. In this way, we shift the cultural norms for the positive.
Connection over Perfection
The pandemic has forced us to let go of our worries over presenting an ideal picture of our lives, of constructing seemingly “perfect” personas, of being very “busy” and fabulous about it. Instead, we are inviting coworkers into our messy homes and chaotic, child-rearing lives. We’re not wearing makeup or shoes. We are cutting ourselves and each other some slack (sometimes, literally, on Slack), having a bit more compassion for our productivity levels, for having that extra glass of wine or bag of chips. We are sharing funny memes in between meetings to combat the fear and grief that are so palpable everyday.
Forced to confront our collective vulnerability in the face of a monster that has no precedent, we are letting barriers down and being more honest. We are sharing more of our authentic selves—so important for deep human connection—and performing perfection less.
This pandemic is painful beyond belief. If we truly pay attention, even the most privileged among us feel this pain (and need to). Our capacity to tolerate the pain and grief and to meet it with love and compassion is what allows us to tear down the structures that we erected to “protect us” from pain in the first place (pretending everything is okay; striving for success; hyper-achievement, etc.). Unless we fully tear down those structures, we will gradually slide right back into old habits when the pandemic ends. One critical step in making that change may be to observe, explore and overcome our self-limiting beliefs.
Social connection and authentic sharing is a vital component of our fight against this pandemic. It is critical to our survival now, and has pro-social implications beyond the time of physical distancing. We need to employ the tools we have to keep this going now- make technology work for us, bring our humanity and kindness to social platforms, and lead with compassion.
Look around. What do you care about now? What shifts would you like to see happen as a result of this crisis? What does that look like in your life? And look inside. What limiting beliefs need to die in order for you to commit to that shift—for you, for us, and for the world?