The outbreak of Coronavirus has made us feel sad, helpless and even powerless. When we’re in a situation where we can’t control our circumstances, it makes us feel weak and vulnerable.
We can ease these feelings of helplessness by practicing self-compassion, orienting towards our sense of purpose, and by looking at the powerful influence each of us has on the world around us (even when we may not be feeling so powerful).
As we help students discover during our Year of More training, each of us has a vast amount of personal power and influence. We each have a great deal of strength and we have the power to affect others around us near and far.
Power is defined as the ability to work and to have an influence. We all have the ability to work and have influence–and it’s by focusing on the influence we do have that helps us build a sense of potency and personal power.
At the Wright Foundation, we define leadership as the ability to influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others. We all have this ability–we are all leaders, regardless of our position, status, or circumstances. We can all influence others’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
In fact, one silver lining in the current situation is that people are realizing that they’re more important and more influential than they previously thought. We are all connected. In the present circumstances, we can see how our choices affect not only those in our close circle but also those subsequent ripples beyond our immediate social group.
Because we can’t be with others in person due to social distancing, it’s easy to feel disconnected, separated, isolated, and alone. We may find ourselves seeking a salve for this discomfort—a way to feel less lonely.
For most of us, this salve comes in the form of distractions. We may spend time scrolling through social media. A lot of people are spending time texting and scrolling, liking, and sharing. While these aren’t negative actions, we may find that they don’t connect us to others as deeply as we desire, especially when we really need to feel those warm social ties.
We may also find that we’re reading more news than usual. News sources are reporting huge spikes in viewership as we seek to find a semblance of control over our situation. When we’re disconnected socially, we may feel the urgency to seek guidance on what’s going on in the world—even when the answers are uncertain.
For many of us, text messaging has become the norm for most of our communication, but as we long for more engagement, we may want to hear our friend’s voice or even see their face on our screen. Those moments of social connection nourish us.
Rather than zoning out in distractions, endless scrolling, or just texting, what we really need (and what others need) is real contact—a human voice! We need the face of a loved one on our screens, sharing a joke and laughing together or comforting each other in our fear. We need to share how much we care about one another. We need to reach out to check in on a family member, a coworker, an elderly neighbor, and even our boss.
Instead of scrolling through headlines or relying just on texts, most of us are finding that scheduling FaceTime calls with our friends or holding work meetings on Zoom helps us feel connected in a more positive way (without experiencing the anxiety and stress from reading the news for the twentieth time today).
The Coronavirus outbreak has already changed how we support each other and will continue to do so for a while. When we’re influencing and helping others from a distance, we often need to be more vocal and effusive with our support. We may find ourselves calling our loved ones more frequently, expressing our care and concern more quickly, and feeling a deeper appreciation for our friends.
Once this has passed, how wonderful will it be to take these newfound lessons of engagement and carry them with us into our “normal” day-to-day lives?
If we look at the rapid pace the virus has spread, we can also learn a valuable lesson about influence. Within a matter of weeks, the single action of a stranger can affect thousands of lives. In this case, we’re talking about a virus, but we can apply this idea to the spread of our actions and thoughts as well.
In a study at the University of California Riverside, participants observed a person in a room. After observation, participants’ moods were reported and measured. If the person they had observed in the room was wearing a happy expression, the participant reported a much better mood—even with no verbal communication or contact. Something as simple as the expression on your face can have a powerful effect on others.
Similarly, we all remember the party game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” right? No matter the celebrity, you’d try to connect them back to Kevin Bacon in less than six connections. Well, a few years ago, researchers on Facebook concluded that we’re all separated by only about 3.5 degrees from anyone on the planet—even closer than we previously thought (and we don’t even need to be famous)!
Researchers studying Social Contagion (Fowler and Christakis) and our connectivity through social intelligence (Goleman), found that our habits, our way of being, and even our moods are contagious. Our very way of being is “catching.”
That also means that for most of us, within three degrees, we are connected to more than 1,000 people that we can influence just by being who we are. Not to mention those that we touch directly or through the viral effect of message spreading on social media.
This may mean sharing positive material with friends online. It could include finding new ways to share our talents, offering words of comfort to loved ones, or finding ways to offer more love and kindness to the world. Just being together in this shared experience can help quell feelings of isolation and loneliness.
When we’re feeling disheartened by the current circumstances, we may also find it helpful to look at the ways our current choices are protecting others. For example, by staying home and practicing “social distancing,” you are actually offering a powerful gift to those in your circle. You’re ensuring they remain healthy and well. You’re also protecting healthcare workers and first responders by keeping medical personnel from becoming overwhelmed in treating the illness. While this may not seem to help someone you know directly, it creates a positive domino effect.
Every time you reach out with care, make a human connection, show concern for the welfare of others, pass on an inspiring or humorous quote or story, acknowledge or compliment a coworker, share deep heartfelt emotions with another, open your heart, have meaningful interactions or conversations, find a moment of gratitude within the crisis—you’re having an influence.
And every little thing you do to keep yourself and others safe during this time—every time you wash your hands, use a tissue to press an elevator button or open a door, disinfect a surface or a light switch, generously tip the delivery person, decline to board an already full elevator—you’re voting for health and wellbeing of all, protecting yourself and others. These are all aspects of care and love. You are making a difference and having an influence.
Mother Teresa said, “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” I love this quote and hold it as a reminder that little actions can have an outsized result.
We are powerful influencers in our world. During these uncertain times, it’s important to remind ourselves that we each have power and can bring more light and positivity to the world around us.
I hope you join us on Wednesday for our complimentary webinar on Soft Addictions: How to Break Your Numbing Habits in Turbulent Times. Together we will find ways to get through this time to a brighter future.
Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.