The new reality of the global pandemic is slowly becoming the new normal. It’s now part of how we navigate our day. I’m self-isolating here in Canada and like everyone, trying to figure out how to live, work and connect. And how to have meaningful impact, right now in this moment of crisis, but also for when the storm has passed.
I am trying to grapple with the many contradictions that COVID-19 presents. We’re asked to stay home to be safe, but in reality, many people are not safe at home. We know we need to stay separate, but it’s essential to come together around a common set of public health actions and policies. We need to be strict in terms of how to protect ourselves and each other, but must also accept uncertainty and not knowing. And while some of us are in countries that are ‘flattening the curve’, for most of us, due to the far reaching economic, social and human rights impacts of the virus, the worst is yet to come.
There’s something else that seems to be part of the new normal: the need to work opposing muscles and recognizing them as part of one interdependent polarity.
As I’m sure many of you have, I have had a number of conversations with leaders for social and climate justice about how we meet this moment. The challenge of managing polarities came up again and again. These tensions are difficult, but they may also help to create a sense of new energy and possibility.
Showing Up While Staying Home
When the pandemic hit, like so many others, we were initially focused on what we needed to cancel or postpone. But in conversations about what to do next, we found that our partners still wanted to work together, even in a virtual community. We pivoted our programs to adjust them for the virtual world. And in addition to ‘moving things online’ created new content and formats adapting to this new space and context.
Early April, in Indonesia and in partnership with the Ford Foundation, Spring completed a four-day virtual workshop on advancing Financial Innovation and Resilience. After consultations with participants, 13 leading social justice organizations and networks, it was decided that the work was more important than ever and should continue. We worked together for 2.5 hours a day and the rest of the time teams were encouraged to review materials, share ideas and create action plans. In on-line spaces creativity and sharing must be powerfully encouraged, and even more so when physically distancing. A total of 70 attendees stayed home while showing up in a virtual convening. With this new format momentum was kept and participants shared a powerful and dynamic virtual experience.
Something Lost and Something Gained
In-person meetings and conferences have always had special value for those who attend. They foster great conversations, strong networks and new friendships. Whether it’s the immediacy of a global pandemic or the devastating impacts of climate change, we have known for a long time that our way forward is to increasingly meet remotely.
How then can magic happen in our new virtual lives? Rather than focusing on how it’s different from in-person meetings in terms of what is lost, the Spring team is focusing on the unique value and opportunity of meeting virtually. In Indonesia we saw how this energized and encouraged the groups to bring some of their own programing online using creative formats. Beyond this program, we have redesigned our High Impact Facilitation Intensive, usually a 3-day in-person meeting, to become a virtual training in doing virtual facilitation.
Looking Out For Ourselves In Global Solidarity
Yuval Noah Harari recently wrote an article called ‘The World After Coronavirus’ in that states how the pandemic requires that we work at a very local level: there’s attention required in every home, for every person, for every pair of hands. It’s tempting to wall off not only ourselves, but also our minds and draw a boundary around our communities, around only what we are willing to or have capacity to contend with, because beyond that may be people and things too dangerous and hard to control. And yet, as Harari says: “Humanity needs to make a choice. Will we travel down the route of disunity, or will we adopt the path of global solidarity? If we choose disunity, this will not only prolong the crisis, but will probably result in even worse catastrophes in the future. If we choose global solidarity, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all future epidemics and crises that might assail humankind in the 21st century.”
Never has it mattered more to work together, as nations, and as a planet. What we learn to solve together during this pandemic may light the way to solutions about complex challenges such as extreme inequality and environmental degradation. We’re going to learn so much about how our global society failed us, but also how it potentially can solve the critical problems of our time. This crisis will force us to rethink how we understand and do things, as individuals, organizations and communities. The virus teaches us how intimately connected we really are, even as we are doing everything to stay separate.
Navigating polarities is going to be a capacity we will need in this decade.
These are unprecedented and uncertain times. Much will be lost, but so much will inspire courage, hope and transformation.
May we all emerge from this crisis more resilient, creative and wise.