The creative communications forged in the COVID-19 pandemic
Lisa Baker from the Centre for Positive Psychology talks about our innate need for human connection and whether it has it taken a pandemic for us to embody it.
We are creatures of connection. Decades of research, along with our own experience, tells us that social connection and relationships are cornerstones of human life. Relatedness is an innate psychological need that, left unfulfilled, will thwart our pursuit of wellbeing (Ryan & Deci, 2000). We know this – but has it taken a pandemic for us to embody it?
Octogenarian and existential psychologist, Dr Paul Wong, recently made the case on the podcast COVID Convo's that COVID 19 is providing us with disguised blessings and opportunities to innovate, create and connect. Perhaps that is what we are witnessing from within the crucible of our recent and sudden physical disconnection? In an effort to engage with others in an alienating time, we are fashioning creative, intentional languages for connectedness and wellbeing.
We understand that connection requires communication as we employ language to transport our thoughts to others, to process and share information, and to construct meaning. Our reality and our relationships are formed through language. However our current context has disrupted our default methods of communication and people the planet over are innovating original and intentional ways to keep relationships and communication active. To function in a dysfunctional context.
Creative communications emerge to help us connect
Zoom calls, messaged emojis and social media are being used at capacity as we are keen to speak and be heard. However, new languages and a new literacy, beyond reading and writing, are being demonstrated as we aim to communicate and satisfy our innate need for relationship and flourishing.
Balcony dance parties have taken on many forms over the past few months.
We’ve seen the balcony parties, roof top fitness classes, fancy dress rubbish bin runs, formal Fridays and an international undertaking of teddy bears in windows as new forms of communication. We are exhibiting a clear and deeply human desire to reach others, to unite and feel good despite restrictions.
Australians have led the way in creative communications during COVID-19, with our now world-renown ‘dressing up to take the bins out’ concept.
Using a dialect of teddy bears, clapping health workers and standing in silent driveways at dawn, we are seeking wellbeing, for ourselves and others, without speaking a word. This literacy – wellbeing literacy (Oades, 2017) – is in us and between in our pandemic context. Using different forms of language (including reading, writing, listening, viewing and creating; ACARA, 2017), on devices and in neighbourhoods, we are seeking to feel good and function well in spite of our distance.
From Christchurch to Canberra, and with Paddington to Pooh Bears, teddy bear hunting has emerged as a fun way to help children survive limited time out of lockdowns all over the world. Picture: Lisa Baker
From the streets to the frontline
If you have seen images of medical staff, heavily garbed in PPE but with print outs of their smiling faces stuck to their gowns, you have witnessed this language and mindful communication for wellbeing. In an intentional gesture, in the context of fear and medicalisation as they treat those with COVID 19, these doctors and nurses exhibit a wish to connect on a human level with their patients. Their intent to help patients feel better, emotionally as well as physically, is an act of compassion, communication and language for wellbeing.
Professor Steven Asch from Stanford University, tweets about the #PPEPortrait and how it’s being used to boost human connection despite front line health workers having to cover themselves in PPE
In children too, we see wellbeing literacy as they draw, paste and share rainbows in their neighbourhoods and schools. Seeking altered language to connect with others and a desire to help themselves find wellbeing amongst crisis, a trail of rainbows can now be seen on footpaths, in windows and online.
Chalk rainbows have become a prominent feature in along some neighbourhood footpaths, as children and adults alike spread a message of positivity during a pandemic.
Blessings bear fruit for the future
These are Wong’s blessings in disguise and expressions of literacy in wellbeing that this pandemic is forging. Our communication, creativity and connectedness are pushing through the cracks of the virus and disrupting despair. There is no doubt we will struggle with ongoing burdens and, for some, deep grief as a result of this year. But the flip side, and we must look to this perspective, is that we also create new skills, knowledge and capabilities. New languages for and about wellbeing. What we can be and do, who we are and how we connect, our mindsets and intentions, will be creatively altered.
With our heightened wellbeing literacy, we may actually see ourselves flourish from this struggle. Paying attention to our language and actions for forging relationships and wellbeing, can last beyond restrictions. Let’s not put away our chalk rainbows, teddy bears or applause for others when as we emerge from 'iso'. May we relish our freedoms as they slowly emerge but equally may we hold on tight to our diversified capabilities for connection.
Lisa Baker is an early childhood educator and a teacher at the Centre for Positive Psychology at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, at the University of Melbourne.
ACARA. (2017). Literacy. Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-
Oades, L. G. (2017). Wellbeing Literacy: The Missing Link in Positive Education. In Future Directions in Well-Being (pp. 169-173): Springer.
Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L., (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.