This article first appeared on Happify
In these uncertain and unsettling times, even as social distancing is keeping us apart, we’ve come to realize that we’re more connected than ever before. And that realization has many of us living a paradoxical inner reality.
On the one hand, COVID-19 has sparked an even more contagious virus of fear. And billions of us are infected. We’re afraid of falling ill and of loved ones falling ill. We’re afraid of death, of loss, of financial ruin, of things never being the same again. And sadly, many of these fears are valid.
But below this emotional chaos is a deep-seated desire to be of help. Connection, wisdom, and altruism are all parts of our human nature. Even in these fearful times, many of us are stepping up to do whatever we can to be of service. Just look around and you can’t but bow in gratitude to the doctors and nurses, the social workers and caregivers who are putting their lives at risk to help those in need. The cashiers in our supermarkets, the pharmacists working to limit the number of noncritical cases in hospitals, and the government leaders doing what they can to manage an unfolding crisis. There are people setting up exercise classes on their roofs to engage the neighborhood or playing the cello on their balconies to spread joy among the despondent.
They are all true leaders during this crisis.
But for a crisis this big, we need many more leaders. This collective challenge is calling on each of us to finally grow up. To move past our collective adolescence, our black-and-white thinking, our emotional and tribal instincts, and our individualistic greed. We are each being called to lead. We are the adults we’ve been waiting for.
So, what will your role be? Who are the people looking to you for leadership? It could be your children who feel lost and are looking for direction. It could be your parents who feel vulnerable, or a partner who is afraid about the impact new measures will have on income and finances. Or a friend who is spreading fear and panic by their constant social-media chatter about the virus.
It could be an old neighbor who needs help with groceries or pharmacy pickups. It could be your team who is looking for support and reassurance as they work remotely. It could be your community, online or offline, that needs you to be the healer, the inspiration, the one who spreads a message of hope and connection.
Remember, one fearful post on the internet can affect thousands, even millions, of others. Your complaints on social media can spread cynicism and despair, and give you and your friends the fake comfort of not having to take responsibility.
But as Brené Brown says: “We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared.” Instead, when we shift our focus to be of service, we not only calm our own fears, we also help others feel stronger, more supported, and more inspired to rise and become their best selves. We connect heart to heart. And we grow as a humanity.
It was Mr. Rogers who said that when he was a boy and feeling scared, his mother would tell him: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping”. How will you be a helper during this time? However insignificant it may seem to you. Maybe your role is to simply hold space for fear and unhappy emotions in your home. Maybe it’s to support your local bakery by encouraging your neighborhood to buy from them, and not from the big chains that have a far bigger chance of survival. Maybe it’s to start an online community that helps and supports children who are home from school and living in abusive households.
Author and poet Clarissa Pinkola Estés beautifully wrote: “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” So, ask yourself: What is my task? Who am I being called to become?”
And then take one step toward it today. Maybe you need to call someone. Maybe you need to send a text. Maybe you need to apologize or let go of a grudge you’ve been holding onto. Maybe you’re being called to start something you’ve never done before, and it makes you feel vulnerable.
But it’s not about you anymore. It’s about all of us. Together.