By Forum Board Chair Moira K. Smith
There are few moments in our lives when it becomes utterly clear that we are living through a historical moment. 9/11. The fall of the Berlin Wall. The crash of the space shuttle Challenger. And now, the global COVID-19 pandemic.
What do we make of these moments? How do we create mental order in a world that suddenly feels beyond our control? And particularly in a pandemic, how do we stay connected to what makes us human?
At its root, this last question — how do we stay connected? — is one the Alaska Humanities Forum has been asking, and answering, for decades. Below are some of my thoughts on how, provided we have our health, we can grow our humanity, connection, and community in the midst of this crisis.
Create space for conversations. As disorienting as this moment is, many of us have had the chance, for once, to slow the pace of our lives. What a joy to take this pause. We’re making bread, completing house projects. Maybe we’re even playing ball with our kids. I’ve done all of these things, but I’ve also reconnected with my friends and family in meaningful ways. Whether video conferencing with friends I studied abroad with but haven’t spoken to since 1997, or reconnecting with roommates from the early 2000s, I have loved listening to friends’ stories and updates.
Through its Art of Powerful Questions, facilitations, and conversational programming, the Forum has created countless spaces for hundreds of Alaskans to come together and converse. As you converse with friends, appearing on a screen in the intimacy of your home, take advantage of this moment to go deeper. Ask questions. Offer them an opportunity to expound—encourage them to “tell me more.” Listen to what they say in response. Go deeper. Connect with others through conversation.
Practice empathy and spread hope. When we act from a place of fear and anxiety, we act irritably and, let’s face it, irrationally. We hoard toilet paper. We weaponize our critical thinking skills. We forget about gratitude. We become oblivious to the suffering of others, focusing instead on our own inconveniences. We can live out this pandemic in the fear zone, but would that be much fun?
The Forum produces the Magnetic North series of videos about Alaskans who have left a mark on this state. When faced with adversity, these leaders found a way to grow beyond the fear zone. Their resiliency allowed them to focus instead on how they could contribute their talents to the community, even in challenging times. Leadership Anchorage and the Salmon Fellows feature the same skills—resiliency and optimism. By practicing empathy and spreading hope, we help our community to come together, not be driven apart, by this pandemic.
Ask: how can I help my community? The economic repercussions of this pandemic, coupled with the oil price rout, are only just beginning to emerge in the State of Alaska. But make no mistake—we will face some of the hardest economic times in our history in the coming years. Community support will be critical in ensuring fellow Alaskans are fed, housed, and eventually, reemployed. We should not be daunted by this challenge, but neither should we be complacent. Donate blood. Check on neighbors. Connect with safe volunteer opportunities via social media.
So how do we stay connected to what makes us human during this pandemic? We connect. We build relationships, and have important conversations. We support our community. And we lean in to Alaska, and our Alaskan neighbors. The Forum has been creating connections among people for decades, and we look forward to continuing to do so along with you.
This post assumes that the reader enjoys the privilege of physical, emotional, and financial well-being. The Forum recognizes that for too many Alaskans, this is not the case. To those Alaskans who are suffering, we extend our deepest regrets. Below are some resources to help you get through this time: * AK Can Do