The mental health crisis is the silent pandemic. What can we do when we’re still in lockdown? We can’t hang out with a bunch of strangers in a bar (unless you’re in Sturgis for the Harley Rally – anything goes!) But we can at least reach out to a few of our casual acquaintances. Whip out that smart phone, scroll through your contacts to find four folks with whom you haven’t connected in a while, and shoot each of them a quick text. Just to say howdy.
A really smart guy, three weeks ago
OK, now let’s fast-forward to yesterday (seems oxymoronic, but just stay with me here). Ryan Estis is one of the many “achieve your dreams” gurus making fat bank off corporate speaking and consulting gigs. (His website sayeth: RyanEstis is a sales and leadership expert preparing companies and individual contributors to embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance.) And guess what he talked about in his weekly “Prepare for Impact” email newsletter yesterday? Pretty much the same damn things I covered three weeks ago:
How the pandemic was creating a loneliness epidemic.
Encouraging his readers to reach out to three people via text.
Son of a biscuit-eater… Ryan Estis stole my idea!
I’m not upset. I’m flattered… and now I realize I’m just a sport coat, a checkered shirt and a wireless mic away from being a “leadership expert.”
(I actually do like Ryan Estis’ stuff. Obvi – I subscribe to his newsletter. His most famous presentation is at the bottom of this post. )
Hey Ryan, hit me up in the comments, and I’ll let you know my home address so you can start sending royalties my way.
My wife’s grandfather had this model train car in his collection:
A bright yellow car with “Plastics” plastered on it. It couldn’t be louder or prouder unless it had a few exclamation points.
Now, plastics are threatening our future…
But there’s still hope. Boylan Slat, a Dutch inventor, was just 18 when he started Ocean Cleanup back in 2013. He’s trying to tackle the complex challenge of cleaning up the ocean garbage. These days, he’s also working to remove it from the 10 rivers that contribute the most garbage to the patch.
We can do our part, a bit further upstream… by reducing our use. Weaning ourselves from bottled water is a great place to start.
Bailing out on plastic bags will help too. A lot of cities have banned single-use plastic bags, or are charging a fee if you use them.
These relatively simple daily changes may seem like a drop in the ocean. But maybe that’s the point.
Peter Guber is a movie producer. He’s produced many memorable flicks such as Rain Man, Batman, The Color Purple, Midnight Express, Gorillas in the Mist, and Flashdance. He’s also produced some clunkers, but he’s got a nice batting average. All told, the films he’s produced have grossed over $3 billion worldwide and received 50 Academy Award nominations.
Oh, he also co-owns the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Football Club of the MLS.
By the way, he’s also a bestselling author. His most recent book is titled Tell to Win.
Peter was a guest recently on Rob Lowe’s podcast, Literally! and had a lot to say about the power of storytelling. Check out this excerpt.
I love that term, emotional transportation. (Clearly this blog is like a Yugo Taxi that’s running low on fuel, but still…)
“Resonant, memorable, actionable.” Yeah, that’s the ticket!
The full podcast episode is here. And Peter Guber’s article for the Harvard Business Review, The Four Truths of the Storyteller, is here.
2020 was a brutal year for staying connected. Back in the 80s, the hippies that hadn’t put a Deadhead sticker on their Cadillac came up with this “peace and love” slogan:
The 2020 equivalent would be “you can’t hug anyone with COVID cooties.”
Ironically enough, you can stay connected with your nuclear family. But pretty much everyone else (save the grocery worker apologizing for the limit on toilet paper… or the total lack of it on shelves) was (and is) off limits. The so-called “weak ties” have been severed. And that’s been a real challenge, especially for those already battling depression.
In the weeks following, I thought frequently of other people I had missed without fully realizing it. Pretty good friends with whom I had mostly done things that were no longer possible, such as trying new restaurants together. Co-workers I didn’t know well but chatted with in the communal kitchen. Workers at the local coffee or sandwich shops who could no longer dawdle to chat. The depth and intensity of these relationships varied greatly, but these people were all, in some capacity, my friends, and there was also no substitute for them during the pandemic. Tools like Zoom and FaceTime, useful for maintaining closer relationships, couldn’t re-create the ease of social serendipity, or bring back the activities that bound us together.
Understandably, much of the energy directed toward the problems of pandemic social life has been spent on keeping people tied to their families and closest friends. These other relationships have withered largely unremarked on after the places that hosted them closed. The pandemic has evaporated entire categories of friendship, and by doing so, depleted the joys that make up a human life—and buoy human health.
It’s not just in the movies that people get social support from their hairdresser. We feel seen when a server smiles upon seeing us and knows what our “usual” is. In fact, our interactions with weak ties tend to go especially smoothly, since we are often on our best behavior with people we don’t know well. Weak-tie relationships give us short, low-cost, informal interactions, which often provide new information and social variety. As a result, we are often pleasantly surprised by these moments.
Is it any wonder that our society is becoming more polarized? With less weak-tie interaction, we no longer have to be on our best behavior… be polite… smile at strangers. Hunkering down is good for stopping the spread of coronavirus, but that bunker mentality isn’t helping us mentally.
Experts warned that the toxic mix of isolation and economic devastation could generate a wave of suicides, but those dire predictions have resulted in little action.
The mental health crisis is the silent pandemic.
What can we do when we’re still in lockdown? We can’t hang out with a bunch of strangers in a bar (unless you’re in Sturgis for the Harley Rally – anything goes!) But we can at least reach out to a few of our casual acquaintances. Whip out that smart phone, scroll through your contacts to find four folks with whom you haven’t connected in a while, and shoot each of them a quick text. Just to say howdy.
Use emojis if you must. Call it a game of Connect Four if that helps. (“Pretty sneaky, sis!”)
Just reach out.
A quick “thinking of you” could improve their quality of life. And perhaps their quantity of life too.
Wait… hold on… listen! Do you hear it? That sound coming from Washington, D.C. Do you hear it? No? Neither do I. And that’s a huuuuge win for our country.
We’ve all had front row seats for a four-year, three-ring circus. “Step right up, ladies and gentleman, and witness feats you won’t believe! In this ring, we have Enormously Egomaniacal Posturing Prevaricator, spewing falsehoods and venom with hypersonic speed, and feasting on the attention of sycophantic spokespeople and a timid press. In this ring, the Bald-faced Bigots and Daring Dog-Whistlers, pandering to hate groups while simultaneously ripping children from their parents and locking them in cages. And in this ring, the compliant congressmen and congresswomen, frozen in fear, never daring to speak the truth to power!”
Now, the TweetTornado has passed. Massive damage has been done, but at least we have quiet and peace as we go about fixing what’s been broken… patching up relationships, restoring trust, providing comfort to the afflicted.