It’s Saturday, March 14th. I’ve been traveling for the past nine days, from Lisbon to San Diego by way of London and Los Angeles. At the moment I’m visiting a friend in Orange County, California. From the balcony I look out across the upscale community, an enclave of posh condos and apartments intermixed with office buildings built of glass, steel and stone. Patchy gray clouds drift above the rain soaked streets as the occasional BMW or Tesla zips by below. (This is quite different from my lifestyle in Portugal, but the world comes in many variations.)
It’s a peaceful day, and it’s obvious that folks live rather well in this part of the world. But the world has changed radically in recent days as Covid-19, Coronavirus as it’s commonly called, has been rewriting life for everyone, even those who are accustomed to the pleasurable stories that money can conveniently purchase. Write a check, problem solved, life is good.
But Covid-19 is something of an equalizer. If you spend time with someone who is infected with the virus, whether they have obvious symptoms or not, you may be the next in line for a trip to the hospital, or spending a few weeks under self-quarantine. You can’t bribe a virus, or hire a bodyguard to protect you. A virus just doesn’t care. Your behavior will write your story.
With large gatherings now banned and the sports industry on hold, it’s no surprise that more people are turning to social media to stay connected with friends and family. It’s a time for personal storytelling, and an opportunity for heartfelt storylistening. A time for empathy and solidarity, for sharing and understanding.
And I’m seeing a lot of that, thankfully, as friends and strangers band together to weather the viral storm with offers of help for those who are under quarantine, or who are at risk and don’t want to venture out. But sadly there are voices out there claiming the situation is a hoax, or is being overblown, even as the infection rate soars and the deaths mount daily.
That’s why it’s important during such times to continue our storytelling, so that others know what is actually happening. But just as important, we should spend more time storylistening. Listening to the stories of those who are affected, listening to the scientific and social experts (not the politicians) who understand the complexities of how this virus is spreading, how it’s impacting individuals, and how those effects ripple out through all societies.
By sharing stories we gain a better understanding of the issues that each of us is having to deal with, and by do so we become more empathetic toward others, especially those at great distance. It’s about the old adage of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, of thinking about what they must be going through, and how that situation would feel if it were us.
It’s also about recognizing that we will never know the whole story. That there are unknown elements in play that can further complicate the narrative. If we’re in dialogue, then we have an opportunity to ask clarifying questions, and I encourage you to do so, but if not, if you’re just reading, hearing or watching someone’s story, don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume.
Though we don’t know when, life will ultimately return to some sense of normalcy, and when it does, we can take more group hug selfies. Until then, be safe, and listen to the stories that manifest from these difficult times. It has the potential to change us, and thus, humanity.