March 30, 2020
In the coronavirus crisis, dramatic change doesn't just happen day to day, but hour by hour. So it's little surprise how thoroughly and quickly we have embraced social distancing - a term that few of us had even heard of before COVID-19 turned the world upside down.
Now the practice of social distancing is just about the only acceptable activity left to the many Canadians who aren't working in vital hands-on fields.
And now, a new and just as necessary term has popped up: caremongering.
The term itself was coined by a Toronto Facebook group dedicated to organizing and sharing community resources in response to the crisis. But it describes a set of welcome practices that, thankfully, have been spreading far and wide.
It's neighbourhood associations, community groups, churches and groups coming together through social media offering everything from grocery runs for elderly neighbours to childcare for health workers.
Among the many social media posts offering help under #caremongering, #bethehelper and #viralkindness was the simple, but never more perfect, question: "Does anyone need anything?"
Interspersed with the practical are the more random, but no less welcome, acts of morale-boosting and kindness.
People are singing from balconies in locked-down cities all over Italy. In Seville, Spain, a fitness instructor led a class from a rooftop so people isolated in surrounding apartments could join in at their windows. In Ontario, people have taken up the call to show some love for health-care providers with a daily shout-out.
Two kids in Columbus, Ohio, gave their elderly neighbour who was self-isolating a cello concert on her front porch.
And Yo-Yo Ma sent an online thank-you by way of Bach's "Cello Suite No. 3" to health-care workers around the world. "Your ability to balance human connection and scientific truth in service of us all gives me hope," he said.
These, of course, are just a few examples that have gone viral. There are countless more. And they should give us all hope. Hope that this crisis will serve to bring out the best in us.
Scaremongering, a word we know all too well, predates social media - no doubt the written word itself. It means spreading stories that make people feel worried or frightened.
It, too, has cropped up in the pandemic. It's the very thing that leads to store shelves being stripped of hand sanitizer and, more bizarrely, toilet paper.
Caremongering is its welcome opposite. It's spreading acts of kindness and reassurance that people will help others when they need it most.
One frays public trust; the other helps to build it. One is focused on personal welfare; the other on supporting the collective.
We should all find ways to recognize and support the impulse to caremongering. That's the bandwagon we want to join.
Even business is getting in on it.
In France, luxury perfume makers have switched to making free hand sanitizer for health authorities. Distillers across Canada, including some in southern Ontario, have shifted production from gin and vodka to hand sanitizer, suddenly a much more precious alcohol-based product.
Grocery stores and pharmacies have announced dedicated hours for seniors so they can shop when it's less crowded and stores are freshly cleaned.
Some news organizations, including the Star, are offering free digital access to coronavirus stories to keep people informed.
Even telecoms, which too often seem to be at war with their customers, are waiving roaming fees for Canadians stuck abroad, suspending data caps on home internet plans and vowing not to cut people off if they can't pay their bills.
It's vital that people are able to stay informed and connected even as more and more of us will be physically isolated.
"We're in this together" is an overused phrase. It's the kind of thing that rolls off the tongue when coaches are trying to pump up players, corporate executives are encouraging staff, and politicians are rallying supporters.
But it feels weightier just now given all that's at stake for our health, our economy, our very way of life.
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this past week, "working together is how we'll get through this, as families, as a community, as a country."
Things are going to get worse before they get better. But movements like caremongering suggest we're ready to tackle the COVID-19 challenge and that we can find and multiply the best in all of us.
What's next? How long will this last? How bad will it get?
No one has those answers yet. But knowing we live in communities where people are willing to help one another helps. Small gestures in large numbers have great impact.
Governments can and should do a lot in these unprecedented times. But, as with the spread of the coronavirus itself, much depends on each of us.
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