In times when fear & anxiety are spiking, when individuals and businesses are facing historic vulnerabilities, and when isolation is our best defense against an unseen foe, perhaps simple neighborliness can carry us through.
I believe the most significant questions we should be asking ourselves during this global pandemic was originally posited by Bill George in his book “7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis:”
During a crisis, he states, “You find what you are really made of. Will you stay true to your convictions and values? Or do you deviate under pressure?”
Before life gets back to normal, which I am confident it will, all of us will be forced to answer those telling questions. What will determine how we fare will not be decided by the CDC, but by our individual efforts to, simply, be neighborly. Let me explain.
Few stories have shaped Western culture such as the biblical story of the “Good Samaritan,” a parable told by Jesus in an effort to narrow the scope of one of the Ten Commandments “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” (And, even if you haven’t heard of it, the message this parable communicates is a part of our social DNA, our humanity, and a part of our collective culture as much as the idea that freedom is the starting point of the America ethos.)
When a lawyer challenges Jesus with clarifying the statement (“Who exactly is my neighbor?”), he shared a narrative that goes something like this: A man was on a journey and was accosted by bandits, robbed, beaten and left for dead. After the assault, two different individuals passed by him on their own journeys and did not stop to help, choosing indifference over intervention. The story makes it clear these were men not moral reprobates, but upstanding members of society who decided not to “get involved.” (Theories abound why they did not stop to help. I’m sure they were busy, or they surmised his situation was an outcome of his own poor choices, or perhaps they were concerned about legal entanglements or becoming sullied, or whatever.)
Next, a Samaritan came along – from among a race of group viewed with no small degree of distain in that society. The Samaritan was “moved with compassion” and stopped to help the defeated man, dressing his wound and taking him to a local inn, where he paid the costs of his rehabilitation and pledged to return to cover any additional expenses.
In the story, the Samaritan’s actions do not establish a baseline for a Nobel prize or an honorary degree, but they do qualify for the simple act – an action we are all called to share – of being neighborly.
If you found yourself surprised or even offended by the cold heartedness of the two who came upon the poor man but still chose to do nothing, then you have likely been influenced by this simple definition of being a neighbor or treating others like you would want to be treated.
In times when fear and anxiety are spiking, when individuals and businesses are facing historic vulnerabilities, and when isolation is our best defense against an unseen foe, perhaps simple neighborliness can carry us through. Here are two neighborly principles you and we should all be trying to emulate:
Be cautious, but be kind. In the aftermath of 9-11 and during the banking crisis of 2008, most people’s lives went on as normal. At least during those times, people went to work and children returned to school. In this new normal of social distancing, industry shutdowns and certain uncertainty, people’s nerves are a bit frayed and patience is strained. We share a common link to others who’ve faced adversity in trying times. I’m reminded of the thousands of people who were forced to take refuge, together, in the bomb shelters under London during World War II. Believe it or not, sociologists and psychologists say that the bombings did not have the intended response of panic and despair Germany had hoped to unleash on Britain. Why? Because, gradually, Londoners grew accustomed to the new normal and adapted. Together. Recently, we’ve seen other instances of incredible resilience and bonding – like the singing of national songs from balconies in deserted Italian piazzas, or musicians providing live concerts to fans across the oceans for free, or museums making virtual tours available for anyone stuck at home.
Give as much grace as you would like to get.
Do you remember going into the store to get water, toilet paper or hand sanitizer, only to find the shelves empty? Similarly, every business in America and much of the world is struggling to make payroll, pay their bills or to get their receivables, produce and distribute their goods. For a time, the shelves will remain empty but eventually, they will be re-stocked and they will continue to be filled over and over again. Breathe in. Don’t fight someone over a few rolls of toilet paper or a gallon of milk if you have some at home. You don’t know the circumstances of others, and we all have a collective responsibility right now to understand that this, too, shall pass.
Now is not the time for panic, or hoarding, or unreasonable actions. Now is the season for us to “stay true to our convictions and values, and to not deviate under pressure”.