COVID-19 Might Just Lead to a New Generation of Social Goodness

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

The many spontaneous and useful acts of kindness we are seeing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread have been well documented. Big brands and multinational companies are stepping up and implementing bold and sweeping initiatives to alleviate shortages of medical equipment, protect their workers, and ease consumer discomfort, confusion, and uncertainty.

At the other end of the spectrum, individuals are doing amazing things to help others through the crisis, including by forging new connections via innovative digital communities.

In the middle are small businesses, the backbone of any well-functioning economy. I’m beyond thankful to my local grocers and pharmacists, who are risking their own safety to ensure the health and well-being of their local communities, but I worry about all those other small businesses that have had to shutter. With more than 20 percent of the world’s population on lockdown, our hairdressers, clothing stores, shoe repair shops, and florists have closed. Should these businesses fail, we fail each other.

What can we do to buoy these businesses — and our communities — even as we maintain a safe social distance? We can shop for our local food banks and for neighbors who might not be able to get to the stores or who have lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. We can support restaurants by choosing curbside pickup and delivery. We can reach out to local small-scale farmers to see about buying eggs, jams, pickled vegetables — or seeds and seedlings to get our own gardens started. We can use our local social media outlets to publicize small businesses that could use a boost — that tiny candy shop suddenly missing out on Easter sales, the little bookshop or bakery. I was heartened to hear last night that in Portland, Oregon’s beloved Powell’s Books has rehired 100 of its workers on the strength of online sales. Amazon and other e-tail giants are doing more than fine during this crisis. Let’s give some thought to sourcing some items locally or from independent e-tailers instead.

I’ve been happy to see, too, that small businesses are doing what they can to protect the jobs they created — from establishing emergency support funds for their employees to hiring laid-off spouses of current workers. Others are retraining and refocusing their employees to take on new tasks until our boundless consumerism returns.

With COVID-19, we’re seeing generic corporate social responsibility evolve into something far more personal. This crisis carries with it an immediacy that doesn’t allow us to put things off till we’re feeling more flush. If we choose to wait for greater financial stability before reaching out to support local businesses, it will be too late. There will be nothing left to support.

And don’t forget those charitable institutions whose work is even more vital today. As a family, we are big supporters of scholarships for indigenous people, and we always support the Bob Woodruff Foundation and other veterans’ charities to give back to those who have given so selflessly. These groups resonate even more now as I find myself hyper-focused on wanting to help not only nearby mom-and-pop operations but also those individuals who are at the forefront of fighting the crisis.

It gives me great joy to read the stories of communities rallying behind the medical workers on the front lines — people cheering each night from their balconies and front stoops, the Spanish police singing to quarantined families, everyone supporting our #HealthcareHeroes around the world.

Altruism has always been a complicated business, rife with mixed motives. If it were an entirely selfless act, wouldn’t all charitable giving be anonymous? But I don’t begrudge anyone who flaunts their contributions or has a hospital wing or football stadium named after them. And even those who do donate anonymously get something in return: Scientists believe charitable behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing a feeling akin to “runner’s high.” Generosity begets happiness. Works for me.

Now that more of us have experienced those positive feelings to varying degrees, I’d like to hope we’ll be able to move, as a society, beyond the Age of Rage and into the Era of Care. That we can learn from our social distancing that we’re better off pulling together — taking the time to demonstrate kindness and consider whom we might help. Dare we hope that out of this horrific virus will spring a generation of social goodness?

SVP Global Communications at Philip Morris International — award-winning PR and marketing professional, author and trendspotter — popularized “metrosexual.”

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