There’s nothing like self-quarantining to make us realize that what we really want is connection and engagement. Over the last few weeks, as the world has gone into lockdown to combat the COVID-19 virus, many creative ways to stay connected have emerged—the virtual dance party, the online happy hour, free concerts and programs, online workouts.
We’re lucky that our technology enables this kind of connection. But, while technology is the enabler, the source of all the great ideas is something far less technical—namely, caring. That deserves all caps: CARING. As we strive to connect and engage with our work and social communities during this pandemic, the most important thing to remember is that connection and engagement come from the heart.
Three recent discoveries illustrate what I mean.
Teacher Car Parade
In my community, teachers formed a car parade and drove through the neighborhoods to encourage their students. Yes, they are engaging students online, but they cared so much about how their students were feeling through all this that they wanted to do more. They wanted to remind their students that they’re still here for them. As the PTA president at one school said, “While we’re trying to leverage all the technology…, you can’t really beat a face-to-face smile and wave from your teacher.”
Inspiration from the Past
The second example comes from a book that a dear friend gave me, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. It’s a slim book, but it speaks volumes about the nature of connection and friendship. Through the “snail mail” correspondence between a writer in New York City and a seller of rare books in London from 1949 to 1963, the book shows the simple actions that create connection—even without technology. It shows how at its very foundation, connection is all about conversation—a two-way, back-and-forth give-and-take of thoughts, ideas, and caring.
Making Dreams Come True
John Krasinski cared enough to make magic happen for a 9-year-old girl whose birthday plans to see the musical Hamilton in Jacksonville were canceled due to the virus. Not only did he introduce her to Mary Poppins (his wife, Emily Blunt) AND give her an all-expenses-paid trip to New York to see Hamilton once Broadway reopens, he went one step further and brought in the whole original cast of Hamilton to sing the opening number, live, on-air, just for her. That act has made millions of people around the world happy—in addition to its original recipient.
From these inspirations, we can stir up a simple elixir for virtual connection and engagement:
This solution is not so different from the way we’ve always designed learning. There’s just a little more interest in and empathy with the target audience. The focus shifts from the science, the process, and technology to the one magical ingredient that makes it all work—caring. Most of us have participated in online meetings, but as artists all over the world have demonstrated, caring reveals so much more we can do with that technology.
Try adding that magic ingredient of caring to keep the members of your community engaged. Let us know what solutions you’re finding. And stay tuned for more about models of connection and engagement inspired by the creativity of people who care, worldwide.