A Cultural Shift in the Making

April 21, 2020

The COVID-19 epidemic has caused a significant cultural shift in our nation. Countries, industries and communities are facing turbulent times and structural upheaval. It can seem at times that uncertainty and negativity dominate the news. But while this is happening, we are also seeing a shift to a new inspirational and positive tone.

We’re reading all the time now about everyday heroes, nurses, doctors and first responders who are sacrificing their health to help others. We’re watching New Yorkers cheer on the city’s essential workers every night at 7pm from their windows and roofs. The COVID-19 crisis is bringing people together in an unprecedented way, ushering in a new era of support and cooperation, in which stories of human connection and kindness are spreading rapidly in the news and across social media.

There was the man who was so grateful to the doctors who saved his wife’s life that he stood outside of the emergency room with a sign to thank them and the teacher who showed up on his student’s porch because she was struggling to complete her math homework. Recently, a tweet asking shoppers to avoid purchasing foods labeled WIC went viral, explaining that recipients of government assistance programs have limited grocery options, especially during shortages due to panic buying. As communities begin to suffer losses, the drive-by memorial has given friends and family the ability to show up for those in mourning and pay their respects. These stories have been disseminated again and again, showing that in this new time of chaos, the world is craving examples of empathy and compassion.

Celebrities and musicians have been tapping into this growing movement as well. The Instagram live concert has taken off, with musicians from across the musical spectrum going live to share a moment of entertainment, joy and connection with their followers. Many are participating in virtual benefit concerts like Lady Gaga’s One World: Together at Home, featuring a star-studded lineup of Elton John, Billie Eilish and more. The upcoming Jersey 4 Jersey concert will virtually convene celebrities like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi to raise money for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

John Krasinski created and is hosting Some Good News, a YouTube news show focused solely on uplifting stories. Celebrating acts of kindness and connection, his first episode amassed over 16 million views. Krasinski has been joined by other celebrities also looking to share in the new wave of hope, including Steve Carell and the entire cast of Hamilton, who serenaded a young teenage fan who was unable to see the hit Broadway production.

We’re also seeing people searching for a healthy source for comfort, wellness and mental health. Deepak Chopra’s meditation stream crashed because it was inundated with people looking for a moment of peace and a new way to manage their mental health. Virtual home workouts are surging, with many people tuning into their favorite fitness guru’s or influencer’s free classes on YouTube or through Zoom. Some online yoga channels, like Yoga with Adriene, have gained millions of new followers in the last few weeks alone.

Just as the fitness and wellness industries are responding to the crisis, we’ve also seen a substantial shift in the way businesses are being run. Companies are starting to show their true values, moving beyond virtue signaling to create tangible initiatives that support their communities.

Mark Cuban has announced that he’s paying all of his hourly workers from the Dallas Mavericks until further notice in addition to asking his employees to expense lunch or coffee purchases from local, independent small businesses. Comcast, Charter, Verizon, Google, T-Mobile and Sprint have signed a pledge to keep Americans connected to the internet, to allow students in their communities to successfully learn virtually. Chef José Andrés has not only transformed eight of his New York City and Washington, D.C., restaurants into community kitchens but is also is planning to cover the costs of more than 400 restaurants nationwide to feed those in need. U-Haul announced 30 days of free self-storage to all college students who have had to leave their schools. Starbucks offered all employees an additional $3 per hour Service Pay and provided extended catastrophe pay to any employee that is sick, exposed to the coronavirus or a part of a vulnerable population.

News coverage of these kinds of positive stories is at an all-time high. Good news is being celebrated, shared and reported on, taking up a larger and larger chunk of the daily news cycle. This monumental shift in reporting is reflecting the deep desire for human connection over fear and division. This has ushered in a new era in news media, fundamentally changing the way news and stories are reported.

If this is in fact the case long-term, businesses will then need to rethink their messaging to appeal to the new age of media and a more aware customer base. Most importantly, they will need to reevaluate their values and actions, finding a way to tie their success directly to the success of their communities. Consumers will expect more from businesses and demand real actions to support the global community. Many companies will need to invest further in their communities through initiatives like profit sharing, Corporate Social Responsibility programs or initiatives that help and assist employees.

The businesses already stepping up are leading this cultural shift and will be ready for this new era–one in which everyone and every business together bears the social responsibility of a collaborative world. But those who have refused to respond to this crisis with compassion, choosing to prioritize their pocketbooks over the communities, will be negatively affected, losing market share and customer support.

The world has a new perspective. We have experienced what it means to be without companionship, community and, for many, vital resources, but most importantly, we have gained a deeper sense of compassion and empathy. This crisis has uncovered, underlined and revealed the need for more connectivity between neighbors, businesses and communities, and we now have higher expectations and needs from our community leaders. Let this serve as a wake-up call for us to expect and demand more from companies, for businesses to connect and care more for their communities, and for us all to work together to support one another in times of need.

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