Why a Virus That Requires Social Distancing Might Just Unite Us

The view from Seattle of the best in humanity

The past few weeks have been unprecedented. Every morning we've woken up to new developments, additional closures and continued measures to distance ourselves from those in our communities.

But as ironic as it may seem, I woke up last week in the epicenter of it all—Seattle—with the realization that all these calls for "social distancing" might just end up bringing us closer to our communities and our loved ones than ever before. 

Here's why: Social distancing is actually "forcing" us to connect with loved ones and those around us.

In the past 20 years, the frequency of family dinners has declined by 33 percent. A study late last year found that roughly 62 percent of parents with children under 18 wished they could have family dinners "much more often" or "somewhat more often." Here's our chance. Perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to gather around the table together, start new routines and rituals, actually have conversations, and make dinner last longer than the standard 12 minutes we have today. While those stats apply to families with kids, they could just as easily apply to families of any kind as well as roommates. Let's face it, we all could use a little more quality time together.

School closures also mean parents and kids are going to spend more time together. As a working parent of a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, I realize that comes with its challenges, but it also presents opportunities. It's a chance for working parents to be even more involved with their kids' learning journeys. Brands like Scholastic and PBS Kids have released amazing resources for families to help in this process—from free daily activities to reading guides and more. It's a brilliant use of their brands' equities in encouraging interaction and giving parents the tools to be hands-on in their child's education. 

Beyond education, consider the other parent-kid moments you can create—from reading together to game night to movie night. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of my family settling in for the Wonderful World of Disney with popcorn. I applaud Disney+ and NBCUniversal for recognizing the power of movies and giving access to new films early. After all, studies have shown that kids who spend time like this with their parents do better in school and in the world. 

Beyond family connections, we're also seeing other communities come together, at least in spirit. The videos of Italians singing from their balconies give me chills. Most of us don't borrow a cup of sugar from our neighbors anymore. In fact, in many cases, neighbors don't even know each other's names. To see people calling out to each other, creating music together and demonstrating that "we're in this together" is a beautiful thing. In addition, the number of people going online to offer their assistance—from financial support, to help delivering food or going grocery shopping—has also been heartwarming. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising, as young people in particular want to be engaged in their "giving," and to see the impact of their investments. Regardless of motive, this pandemic has inspired the best in humanity and underscores our innate human desire to connect.

At a local level, I've felt that sense of community personally. Being in the epicenter of COVID-19 here in Seattle, the sense of camaraderie and collective support has been overwhelming. Truth be told, over my past decade in Seattle, I've come to understand the strength and inherent collaboration of this community. But the past few weeks have made that all the more apparent. The hashtag #WeveGotThisSeattle trended on Twitter and has reached over 23 million people in just about a week. And while the city's largest companies have all donated to small-business relief funds, individuals have also made it their calling to help, too. Over $250,000 was raised in the past week from online donations. People have been rallying each other through social media to buy gift cards to local restaurants to help prevent the loss of community gathering spots. Local fine dining icon Canlis actually changed its business model to better serve the needs of Seattle-ites, offering drive-through bagels for breakfast, burgers for lunch and even a family meal (wine included!) for dinner. The sense of belonging and commitment to one another has offered a few moments of optimism in an otherwise grey time.

I would never want to see the world go through another situation like this. But perhaps this is one of those rare times that causes a moment of pause to reflect on what's important in life and create some new traditions that deepen our social connections for the long term while keeping up a bit of physical distance—just for now.

Britt Fero
Britt Fero is principal and founder at PB& in Seattle.

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