By: Mark Chupp, PhD
New social norms are emerging as a result of COVID-19, making us much more aware of those around us. Many are making eye contact and trying to show friendliness to strangers as they move away from someone at the grocery store or on a walking trail. Unfortunately, a minority of Americans have insulted and lashed out at people of Chinese and other Asian descent. The President and right-wing media have emboldened people to mistreat complete strangers simply because of their appearance or presumed ethnicity. With the pandemic, persistent xenophobic sentiment among some Americans is now being expressed overtly and directly.
At this time of heightened fear and anxiety, people are also behaving in positive ways. Beyond sheltering in place and hand washing, most people are doing things that demonstrate a level of trust and faith in others. Going to the grocery store requires trust that others will not go out in public if they have symptoms. Crime is down and sharing is up. Coworkers send dinners to one another to show their support. Patrons leave $100 tips for take-out in a show of solidarity for a favorite local restaurant.
In addition, people are performing acts of kindness to complete strangers, not expecting anything in return. Volunteers work long hours to provide meals to school children and families in need. There are creative efforts to show support for healthcare workers making great sacrifices for those who are sick with the virus. Hundreds of employees have turned over their monthly parking rebates, leading to an emergency fund with tens of thousands of dollars for students in financial need.
The virus is growing exponentially. R0 (pronounced R-naught) is a scientific term filling the airways, helping us understand the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 with an R0 of 2. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said an R0 of 2 means at first, there might be 100 people infected, but in as little as three days, there could be 200 people infected, and three days after that, up to 400 infected, growing exponentially. This type of growth, without flattening the curve, can lead to millions of infected people in a matter of weeks. Ohioans are leading the country in changing their behavior, making sacrifices to drop the R0 or flatten the curve and save lives. It’s working.
I believe trusting behavior and acting on behalf of the greater good are also contagious. The R0 might not be as high as COVID-19, yet I still believe that we can grow small acts of kindness as people learn new rituals of connecting and caring for others. Online social hours, reunions with long-lost friends and reconnecting with distant family members are increasing daily. Co-workers are checking in with each other and providing support in stressful times. Cooperation has taken the place of contention in the workplace. Generosity is contagious.
We can do our part by extending our public support for those of Asian descent who are being unfairly discriminated against. We also know that low-wage essential workers, many of whom are people of color, are putting themselves at risk to keep our systems going. We can advocate for the financial and emotional support they need, including a $15/hour minimum wage and full health benefits.
Let’s imagine the exponential impact of a new-found awareness and respect of others. Let’s spike the curve of goodness. If you catch someone doing something good, call it out by sharing the good news, copying or adapting it in your own life. Let’s create a set of new rituals and peaceful practices that will be the lasting legacy of the coronavirus.
Read Dr. Chupp's earlier article, Fear, Denial and Connectedness, from March 30.