Take a moment to step into a nurse’s shoes.
You slouch against the reception desk of the emergency room, letting the sounds of the chaos around you melt into the hum of ventilators in surround-sound; it’s the first break you’ve had in nearly three hours. You’re wearing the same mask you’ve had on all week, and you feel it digging into your cheekbones and chin, which started to feel raw nearly three days ago now.
You lift your head as you try to adjust the mask, and as your eyes settle onto the window, the pain vanishes. There’s a middle-aged man standing outside, as if he’s been there for some time. One hand he holds to his chest, his other hand is held up against the window holding a sign. Pressed against the cold glass, the sign reads in block letters:
THANK YOU ALL IN EMERGENCY FOR SAVING MY WIFE’S LIFE
I LOVE YOU ALL
The sincerity on this man’s face envelopes you like a hug you haven’t had for a long time, bringing tears to your eyes.
The past weeks and months citizens around the globe have watched their economies and healthcare systems bend and snap under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a people we’ve been, as the White House put it, “caught with our pants down.” In our mad scramble to pull them up again as fast as we can, we’ve welcomed, and accelerated, innovations that would have likely otherwise been years, if not decades away.
In the US alone, we are extending benefits to families and gig workers who were previously excluded. Suddenly, we’re allowing doctors to provide care through telemedicine for those prevented by distance or their physical condition from visiting a clinic. Universal Basic Income is being seriously considered as a lifeline instead of as a socialist threat.
Artist Samantha Stein, who also goes by Wombkind, argues that now is the time to bring that same spirit to our emotions. Samantha describes #loveincovidtimes as an initiative that “aggregates inspiring, creative and effective responses” to the pandemic, and its manifestations on society. People around the world are already using social media to post images that allude to moments like the one described above. Her idea is that in adding this hashtag to their posts, individuals begin to define a sense of positivity and community that in aggregate, counteract the palpable negativity and instability that currently surrounds us.
Remind Me Why We Care About Positivity?
Justifiably, you may be asking why, as a community, “staying positive” deserves our attention when there are N-95 masks to procure, food banks to be replenished, and rents to be paid. We can start by understanding that negative affect (negativity) correlates with lowered immune function. In fact, we have peer-reviewed evidence showing that while in quarantine, merely perceiving your situation negatively makes you more susceptible to illness. On the flipside, we’ve seen that positive affect (positivity) is linked to everything from creativity, perseverance, and general well-being to improved leadership, decision-making, and mastery of information. Needless to say, I’d love to see some improved leadership and mastery of information these days.
So Why Social Media Instead of, say, Puppies?
In fact, the #loveincovidtimes model nicely mimics the antics of the COVID-19 itself. To keep pace with the virus, we need something that can spread just as quickly, and just as subtly, to our normal activities. As implied when a post is described as “viral,” a snapshot, a photo, a hashtag lend themselves to both.
The #loveincovidtimes model is fitting for its limits, too; not every post will go viral, nor will they all resonate with a single person. This is by design — that is, rather than a post itself making you feel positive (i.e. when you feel a pinch of dopamine when someone gives it a “like”), Samantha aims for the emotion elicited by the moment it represents; that in raising your awareness of those positive moments in your day-to-day, you’ll start to accumulate enough of them to outweigh the negative ones escalating around you.
So the next time you hear neighbors cheer for service-workers or attempt a two-step in the street, go out and join them. And when you pull up the latest Coronavirus movie clip on your phone, have a chuckle, and maybe re-post with #loveincovidtimes. Or perhaps when you finally nail your mom’s recipe and the taste warms your soul like in that scene from Ratatouille, let it sweep you off your feet. Because love is contagious, and right now everyone’s a little emotionally compromised.