In June of 2021, when governments around the world were hoping the worst days of the pandemic were behind us, British Columbia’s chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry came up with an idea to celebrate a provincial “Hug Day.”
“It’s one of the things that I’m missing most in this pandemic,” Dr. Henry told reporters. “I’ve been trying to pitch to the premier that we should have ‘B.C. Hug Day’ in July when we get to that point where we’re where we can take our masks off and have those closer social interactions.”
COVID-19 had other ideas, of course, as it clobbered us with a third wave but Dr. Henry had hit on a universal ache felt by humans everywhere coping with physical distancing: the need to interact with others in a very personal and tactile manner. We just wanted to give and receive a hug.
I’ve written before about how the pandemic fast-tracked many changes that were already happening including online shopping and working from home. I’ve written about the emergence of the Metaverse and how it could transform our lives like the Internet. We are spending more and more of our time in online communities.
But I am first and foremost a champion of the good old, see-you-at-the-town-hall-meeting-tonight community. There I can shake your hand and, if you’re up for it, give you a hug. There we are not just sharing ideas but sharing the same physical space. Perhaps we are meeting for the first time. Perhaps we don’t share the same views and have come to a meeting with different perspectives. There is an importance to that, a weight, a value that you simply cannot find online where people tend to shut themselves inside silos with only like-minded people.
That’s why community is so important. I mean real communities where people live and where we connect with people who are not like us, who don’t think like us and who we’d likely never meet if we remained glued to our computer screens. Real communities are where liberals and conservatives still say hello to each other, have bbq’s together, and are there to support each other in times of crisis. Real communities are where neighbours shovel each other’s sidewalks and driveways, where they watch to see the kids from the neighbourhood all get on the bus safely, and drop off chicken soup when someone down the block has a cold.
Real communities are where we help each other become better.
That is a keyword: better.
Too often we opt for another word: blame.
It is easy to point the finger of blame, especially if we do it online where we don’t have to look into the eyes of our target.
When it comes to inappropriately venting frustration, being online is like being part of a mob where members can hide behind anonymity. I call this blaming not bettering.
We are experiencing a social shift that is threatening not only our communities’ viability, but is extending all the way to the national level. It’s a mindset shift that comes down to how we are approaching the problems and challenges we face.
No matter what we or our governments do, there will be problems that arise that we need to address. That has always been the case. We will never get to a point where we are simply done because we have reached Utopia. So, the issue is not that we have problems. The issue is how we respond. Do we take on the challenge and try to make things better, or do we blame others? The way we respond comes down to our attitude and sense of responsibility.
To paraphrase the English poet, Alexander Pope, to blame is human…
We all do it – and acknowledging that fact is the first step to fixing the problem.
In 2022, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled, “Blame Culture is Toxic. Here’s How to Stop It.” In it, the author pointed out “we are all naturally wired to blame other people or circumstances when things go wrong. These propensities are partially psychological, driven by something called the fundamental attribution bias. We tend to believe that what people do is a reflection of who they are, rather than considering there may be other factors (social or environmental) influencing their behavior.”
Making the “blame” problem worse is that we don’t notice how often we do it. The article’s conclusion: “No good comes from blaming and shaming each other for our imperfect nature. You benefited from learning from your mistakes, so allow others to do the same. Use problems and mistakes as teaching moments, not shaming moments….This is how you teach others to approach problems from a place of kindness and compassion.”
We need to take a step back and look at our own behavior. When we see a new challenge or an injustice appear, we all have a sense that it should be made right and addressed properly. At that point we need to avoid the blame game and find ways to make the situation better. And step up.
This means taking personal responsibility. Perhaps we volunteer our time or money or simply offer words of encouragement to those who are stepping up. But that does not mean every betterment action must start with a life-changing commitment. For instance, when we learn seniors are desperately lonely, we can go visit them or provide a ride to those who go visit. That is not life changing. Just a few moments out of our day to make our community better. The big things are naturally important, but the little things matter, too.
Our sense of community has moved more online these days and that is ok for some things, but not the really important things. You can’t get a hug through the internet when you’ve had a bad day.
The internet community can band together during good times and bad. And, if large enough, parts of an internet community are always online. But no amount of online banter can compete with a friend showing up with a bottle of wine on a Friday evening to just visit.
Those online communities are shared interests and causes, but they aren’t real communities that are there to support you through life. They can give you a thumbs up on a job well done but where are they when you need to move a couch up a flight of stairs? Or, more seriously, when your community is facing a crisis?
And that is an issue because the more “communities” we dive into on the internet, the more we isolate ourselves from our neighbourhood communities. There is a real loneliness pandemic that is hurting us all.
The lonelier and more disconnected from our neighbourhoods we get, the more disconnected from the world we get, which makes us evermore lonelier and angrier. The disconnection from the community leads us to feel powerless to do anything when an issue arises. The angrier we get the more likely we are to blame others for those issues in our community we feel powerless to control. Our move to online communities over our own neighbourhoods has pushed us to focus on blaming rather than bettering. It has left us to put more responsibility on others, usually governments, to fix things. I don’t know if you have recognized this lately, but governments can’t do nearly as much as we expect them to do.
We need to reconnect with our real local community and start bettering it instead of looking for others to blame.