Journalism that Tends and Befriends in the Time of Coronavirus

Image by Steven Wright, wrightmarks.com

We are all in it together.

I’ve been struck by the many times this phrase has been in news stories since the Coronavirus pandemic began. When was the last time journalists were so focused on what connects us?

Stories have been a cornucopia of support:

Understanding the numbers and flattening the curve (one story among many)

Working from home

What to do with kids at home (so many stories)

How to support to those in need

How to wash your hands

How to make a face mask

How to breathe

Artistic responses: Getty Museum challenge, Rotterdam Philharmonic

Maintaining mental health

Why there’s a shortage of toilet paper. Or tofu (who knew?)

Celebrating Passover or Easter while physically apart

Funerals in the time of COVID-19

And so much more. What is bringing out this spirit of support? Not just among journalists, but everywhere. Stories of generosity, compassion, and selfless acts from individuals and organizations are rampant.

What is going on?

We are all in this together. Granted, even in these times, the burden is not equitably shared. Even that is getting attention. The reality: no one can run away.

That realization was the key that unlocked a memory of an alternative threat response to fight or flight. We are seeing it everywhere: tend and befriend.

In 2000, psychologist Shelley E. Taylor reexamined the results of studies that led to the concept of “fight or flight.” The term was coined in 1932 to describe reactions to a threat. Talyor and her team discovered that the majority of participants in the many studies on threat and stress responses were men. When they looked at women’s responses, they found different behavior.

Women tended others, caring for the vulnerable. Or they befriended those in their community who could join together to address the threat.

When there is nowhere to run, tend and befriend strategies abound.

And they work. In Positive Image, Positive Action, professor of management, David Cooperrider, makes a compelling case that we move towards what we imagine. For example, if we “fight social isolation,” we will likely get more social isolation. If we “befriend connection,” we may well achieve what we actually want.

When this pandemic fades from controlling our lives, let us remember we have more options for handling threats.

After all, we are all in this together.

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Edited on 4/17/20 to correct date “fight or flight” was coined.

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Co-founder and director, Journalism That Matters. Author, Engaging Emergence & The Change Handbook. Hosting conversations for addressing complex challenges.

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PeggyHolman

PeggyHolman

Co-founder and director, Journalism That Matters. Author, Engaging Emergence & The Change Handbook. Hosting conversations for addressing complex challenges.

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