After a week of social distancing, Toronto magazine editor Sasha Emmons was feeling overcome with anxiety and anger. She was anxious at the prospect of losing her job, like so many have amid the global pandemic. She was angry at people with a cavalier attitude about COVID-19.
“I didn’t know what to do with those feelings,” she says. “I realized that a lot of my anger was directed outward, but some was directed inward, because I hadn’t really done anything besides hunker down.”
Emmons was moved to action when she saw a series of tweets by US Senator Elizabeth Warren urging people to donate to charities that serve vulnerable populations. She donated to several, shared Warren’s thread on her social media accounts, and started her own Twitter thread highlighting charities in Canada. “Doing that made me feel a little better,” she says. “I started thinking, if I do this every day – think of something I can do to help – maybe that will get me through this.”
Science supports her hunch. Studies have found that giving to others and being kind are good for your mental health. They may even help you live longer. Moreover, an act of kindness can create a chain reaction of other kindnesses. Senator Warren’s tweets inspired Emmons, whose tweets inspired some of her 5,600 followers to donate and recommend other worthy charities. “A bunch of people reached out to me, so I keep adding to the thread,” says Emmons, Editorial Director of Lifestyle at St. Joseph Communications. Like coronavirus, kindness is contagious.
Spread the Love, Spread the Word
As the virus continues to spread and wreak havoc on economies, the need for charity and other good deeds grows. More and more people are finding themselves jobless. More and more hospitals are running short on supplies. More and more people are experiencing anxiety, fear, loneliness, or depression.
Fortunately, conditions have never been better for kindness to snowball. Social media has made it possible to broadcast our altruism for all to see. The same technology that made the Kardashians famous can turn modest acts of kindness into movements.
When musicians in locked-down Italy stepped onto their balconies to sing and play for neighbors, their tunes reached people across the world, spawning the best kind of copycats. After Coldplay’s Chris Martin livestreamed a mini concert from his home, artists including John Legend, Neil Young, Yo-Yo Ma, and Bono followed suit, giving rise to hashtags such as #TogetherAtHome and #SongsOfComfort. A who’s who of children’s book authors have taken to social media to share their stories with kids stuck at home. Yoga, fitness, and dance instructors have hopped online to get people moving.
If the idea of advertising your good deeds makes you uncomfortable, it’s understandable. Social media is often derided as a hotbed of posturing, navel-gazing, and trolling, and research suggests that heavy use can harm mental health, especially among young people. But leveraging social media and other online platforms to do good “has the complete opposite effect,” says Sahoja business development associate Stephanie Pham. “You actually feel good about yourself.”
When Online Is a Lifeline
Amid the coronavirus crisis, the internet has proved a powerful force for good, allowing us to connect while keeping our distance. Quarantined seniors are spending time with their grandchildren via video chat. Teachers are conjuring up virtual classrooms. Doctors are examining, diagnosing, and treating patients remotely.
Altruistic acts are largely arranged online. Hundreds if not thousands of Facebook groups have cropped up to connect people who need help to those willing to give it. Nextdoor, a social networking platform known for petty posts and catty comments, saw an upsurge in engagement as users offered their help to vulnerable neighbors and shared information – like where to find eggs, flour, or toilet paper. It quickly launched a feature called Help Maps, making it easier for people to locate helpers in their community. “It feels important to underline that the new features we’re launching today are inspired by the outpouring of kindness we’ve seen on the platform,” Nextdoor blogged.
The kindness has spilled onto crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe, now bursting with fundraising campaigns for restaurant workers, artists, and others facing loss of income. Between March 20 and March 24, the number of coronavirus-related campaigns on GoFundMe jumped 60 percent, from 22,000 to 35,000, The New York Times reported.
Social media has raised an army of crafters determined to #SewtheCurveFlat by making facemasks for medical professionals and others on the front lines. Another social media movement, “Chalk Your Walk,” energized legions of kids and parents to decorate driveways and sidewalks with messages of hope.
A Place for People Like Us
Spreading kindness is Sahoja’s raison d'être. Well before the COVID-19 crisis, we set out to create an online community of socially minded people, charities, and businesses to maximize our impact on people and the planet. We hope you’ll stick around as we grow. Because, soon, we’re bringing you a meaningful way to connect with each other; a growing marketplace of ethically responsible goods; and a simple way to support change-making projects around the world.
If you’re eager to get started, consider donating Sahoja points to our newest partner, Student Relief Fund. The newly created fund will help American college students facing hunger and homelessness in the wake of campus shutdowns. Just log in to Sahoja and click on “Projects” to help.
If that makes you feel a little better – researchers call it “helper’s high” – consider sharing the word about Sahoja. Love it or hate it, social media is a great place to start.