Aaron Sherinian and his 17-year-old son, Adam are founders of the Quarantine Academy

Will Isolation Bring Us Back Together?

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By Marian Salzman

NEW YORK (Forbes) — Times of crisis bring out the worst and best in humanity. I am heartened to see that — toilet paper hoarders aside — COVID-19 has been bringing out the latter in most people.

Neighbors are pulling together — if you don’t tear up seeing this surprise 80th birthday celebration in Spain, you’re a rock—communities are rallying around local businesses, and corporations of all kinds are mobilizing to ease isolation.

Last week, my friend and colleague Aaron Sherinian and his 17-year-old son, Adam, launched Quarantine Academy (QA). It’s a genius way for as many as 300 people at once to Zoom in and learn about worthwhile topics from a variety of experts.

During daily virtual meet-ups at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST, QA entertains and informs cloistered kids and adults with cabin fever via topics ranging from Ernest Hemingway and the importance of brevity to stress-reducing origami. One teen expert schooled adults on the ins and outs of TikTok, and a pilot is on tap to take kids fascinated by air travel into a virtual cockpit.

Talk about social solidarity. Even as people are keeping their physical distance, they’re managing to spend time together.

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Aaron is a quintessential extrovert with an intellectually curious, introverted son. During this period of self-isolation, the father craved connectivity while the son sought stimulation. Together, they came up with a way to create that for themselves while providing a service to others.

Aaron has coined the term “pop-up generosity” to describe the ways in which individuals are devising innovative ways to contribute to the greater community — whether nearby or spanning the globe. It’s not at all difficult to find examples of this generosity in action. There are the yoga and fitness instructors offering their classes online for free, community groups popping up to arrange deliveries to elderly and homebound residents, and, in Dallas, Whisk Crepes is offering free meals to service industry employees whose incomes have been impacted by the outbreak. Even author Mo Willems — artist-in-residence at the Kennedy Center — is hopping online every day at 1 p.m. EST to read to and draw with anxious kids.

Random acts of kindness, thankfully, no longer seem quite so random. They’re everywhere.

I hadn’t seen this level of communal camaraderie since 9/11 and the days that followed, when those of us living in and around New York City came together, seeking comfort and consolation like never before. It connected us, and we were all better for it. I’m feeling this sense of unity again, and not just from individuals. Companies such as Louis Vuitton (which is using its perfume factory to make hand sanitizer to help with the shortage) are stepping in to fill the gap where overloaded governments fall short. Expect many more to follow suit in coming days.

An essential difference between the days post-9/11 and now is that back then we were encouraged to go about our daily lives as usual to support the economy (President Bush explicitly exhorted us to shop) and to show that we were undeterred in protecting our freedoms and way of life. In the current crisis, we’re being told to isolate ourselves for the protection of our families and others. That is making this crisis unlike any I’ve experienced before.

Humans are social animals. As I wrote in my “20 Trends for 2020” report, people crave not just emotional but physical contact. Deprived of touch, we grow anxious and hopeless. We need to know we’re loved and valued. That’s why efforts such as the Quarantine Academy are so vital. They create solidarity amid the distance and disconnect. They allow isolated people to step back into some form of togetherness. They also allow people like Aaron and Adam to give back to the broader community in a way that is deeply meaningful.

No one is going to be heading out to a charitable gala or other in-person fundraiser anytime soon. Why not give some thought to how you can contribute in more creative and personal ways? Maybe our enforced isolation is exactly what was needed to bring our divided society back together.

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