Like everyone else, I am turned upside down by this pandemic, this time of lock down, isolation, fear and anxiety. These are uncharted territories we are traveling together. Yet, it amazes me to realize that less than two months ago, I was out speaking to groups around Naples about the importance of citizen diplomacy and women in politics. As a cross-cultural coach and public speaker, my message has always been that we need to reach out to people of different cultures. We need to learn from and about others, meet them face to face, open ourselves to new ideas, take the best from every culture and grow in understanding. By thinking and acting globally, we evolve and become better human beings. I believe this is how we will survive. My life motto has always been “people to people”.
But now, with this raging virus, we have all retreated inside and closed our doors, parks, and public spaces. To keep well, we are careful not to touch each other or gather in groups. We have shut down our borders, built walls, and are pulling out of trade agreements. International trade and commerce is slowing to a stop. We are pulling inward in our homes, our communities, and our nations. To protect our health, we cut off from outside human contact. For now, it is necessary to slow the spread of this deadly disease. It seems that social isolation is slowly working and we all should heed the advice of the epidemiologists, if we want to stop this virus.
Yet, we simply cannot stay cut off. In our isolation, we open virtual online windows. Increasingly, as we stay safe, people on every continent are connecting like never before on Zoom, Facetime, Gotomeeting, Skype, and others. We are reaching out to people with whom we haven’t spoken in years -- getting together for virtual happy hours, birthday parties, board meetings, office conferences, online classes, neighborhood sings, group discussions, international concerts, art shows, and book groups, as well as local and international business meetings. We are talking across state and national borders. We are communing, because, that is what humans do best. We are by nature collaborators. Together, the world is Zooming.
What will this time of isolation do to us as humans? Closing borders, cutting off from international organizations, cutting off from our allies, criticizing each other will never get us out of this. Rather, we cannot, we must not, put our heads in the sand. We must not retreat into exclusivism and nationalism, after we transit this deadly virus. We, now, can see very plainly that everything is global. Communication is global. Health is global. Trade is global. Our supply chains are utterly global. Climate change is global. The economy is global. Scientific research is global. Immigration concerns are global. The list goes on.
Right now, despite the present administration in the US, states are reaching across borders and working together to share ideas and solutions to this global pandemic. EU nations are starting to collaborate on containing the virus. Nations like Taiwan, Korea, and China are shipping their PPE to other nations. Scientists in many nations are madly working to find a vaccine for Covid 19. We must learn the best from each other. A global problem can only be solved by global solutions. Can we begin to learn from this moment? Moving forward, before another global crisis again hits, we must actively participate in those international networks that address issues we see coming at us -- climate change, immigration, global health, terrorism, economic instability. We must not disengage from the WHO, the Paris Accord, UN agencies, IMF or the World Bank. The United States should be a decisive leader, sharing the best knowledge we have, in these agencies and actively work to build up their capacities to respond to future challenges that we know will inevitably come.
Pointing the finger to blame others and criticizing other nations does not help, but rather hinders our common response to these challenges. Toughing it alone is nonsensical. It is time to put our minds together to solve the huge issues facing us on this planet. In times of international crisis we desperately need leaders who are empathetic and who can collaborate and work collectively to find solutions, taking the best ideas from each nation and applying them to our mutual societal good. Yes, for now we need to do that virtually, but nevertheless, we must think and act collaboratively at the local level, state level, and the national and international level.
This is no time to pull out, close your eyes, divide into camps. and hope you can survive alone. No, to survive this and other international crises that will most definitely come, you gotta be in the Zoom where it happens.
Joanne Grady Huskey is an author, speaker and coach. She is Co-Founder and Vice President of iLive2Lead Young Women's Leadership Summit, Co-Founder of Global Adjustments (India); and of the American International School of Chennai (India).