It was 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, and I could feel myself beginning to unravel. A few message notifications from my alumni WeChat group were all about the same thing: orders to lock down Wuhan, China, would go into effect in a few hours, keeping millions of people—including my close friends—sheltered in place for the foreseeable future.
I was freaking out at that moment. Now many months into fighting the pandemic, taking a look back at how much of the storm that we’ve already weathered, I’ve realized the power of staying connected and also learned new ways to support each other during difficult times.
PEOPLE FEEL CONNECTED WHEN THEY FEEL USEFUL
I live in the U.S., but all of my relatives are in China. We’ve gotten used to staying in touch virtually. But when all connections become virtual, it’s tough, especially for the elderly who didn’t grow up with computers, tablets, smartphones, or social media. Quiet resilience and energy are instilled in Chinese culture and have a particularly big influence on my parents’ generation. When they experience a setback, they choose to suppress their negative feelings and get back up on their feet, typically without much support from their children, the only-child generation, or anyone else.
I’ve found that it’s easier to start by asking my parents to make something for me and then do something for them in return. My mom likes cooking and herbal remedies. I asked her to send me recipes and instruction pictures or videos. My aunt is a great gardener, so I asked her about gardening tips and recommendations. In this way, it makes them feel comfortable to open up when I ask what I can do for them. This makes us feel connected even though we’re living on the opposite side of the world stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
IT’S NOT STRANGE TO FEEL OVERCONNECTED
We’ve heard a lot of phrases such as “staying connected while being physically apart” and “stronger together throughout the pandemic,” etc. The first time I realized that people can also feel overconnected was when I chatted with friends in Wuhan during the initial lockdown. Being quarantined in an apartment when everyone in your social circle was suddenly making plans to get in touch, it’s not strange to feel overwhelmed and wanting to take a break. It doesn’t mean you’re a loner. It doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful. Unplugging from social media to focus on yourself—your own thoughts and feelings during challenging periods—is an important part of selfcare.
When you’re ready, reconnect with your peers and find a way to cheer them up and make a positive difference in people’s lives. For example, a group of my girlfriends and I have been working together to support our friends in Wuhan. We have one person represent the group to stay in touch with them. If they need space, then we reach out later. If they’re stressed out by work or housework or falling ill, then we find ways to offer help remotely, such as searching for and ordering groceries, disinfectants, and other cleaning supplies, having virtual playtime or story time with their kids, and so on.
EVERYONE CAN PLAY A PART IN BRIDGING THE DIVIDE
Some think that trade tensions, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing global recession will be the final nail in the coffin of globalization. My first response is that sounds too pessimistic. But the reality is, with a more uncertain world, it leads to increased complexity for international businesses and global talent mobility.
As a Chinese citizen working in the U.S. at a global nonprofit organization that serves members around the world, the challenges facing the world really hit home in a personal way. Here at IMA, our Senior Leadership Team strives to foster a culture of diversity and inclusion (D&I), respect, service to IMA members and the communities in which we operate, and teaming to achieve our objectives. We believe every organization and each individual can contribute to building a bridge to people from other places and cultures.
Leading by example is the most powerful tool. Earlier this year, IMA offered accounting and finance professionals, academics, and students globally 90 days of free access to premium educational resources. IMA’s chapters, regional offices, and the overall organization offer virtual events that are open to international members. To help individuals and businesses to become more diverse and inclusive, IMA also released a new D&I Toolkit, a free resource available to members and nonmembers alike.
At both an individual and organizational level, we should do what we can to support people who are suffering and less fortunate than we are, help each other overcome challenges, and get through the pandemic stronger and more connected than ever before.