Thursday, April 2, 2020

World Moms Give Perspective

World Moms Network contributors from around the world gather on
inform and comfort each other in our shared isolation.
Photo credit: Tes Soloman Silverman
Like a lot of folks these days, getting together with my friends for drinks and chats also means sitting in front of a computer screen. That can seem like an annoyance when it’s with my friends a few miles away, but it’s a giant privilege when I can get together with the women of World Moms Network!

World Moms Network was started by Jennifer Burden in 2010 with her vision that people would be much more tolerant and understanding of others who are different if they could personally feel connected to others globally. She built relationships with moms around the world and invited us to write blogs with our stories of raising children.

Over the years, we wrote of joys and concerns of motherhood in our own countries, which grew to include over 30 nations. The world would suffer many catastrophes like flooding in India, hurricanes in the U.S., and major earthquakes in Japan, Nepal, Ecuador, and Haiti.  Moms affected by disasters would write about their experiences, and the rest of the moms would read and check up on them with words of support. That was how it went until the coronavirus pandemic.

Never have we all experienced such an event all together. When several of us connected on our first online zoom call since the pandemic started, we had moms from Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, and several parts of the United States. All of our communities were in various stages lockdown depending on how our respective governments handled the COVID-19 crisis. It’s astounding how similar our experiences and feelings are, despite the miles between us.

The lives of the moms on the call were quite varied. Some have young kids, some have teens. Some moms work - requiring a 5AM wake-up to do work before kids must be supervised for at-home school) - and others are not employed. Our houses might be big or small, but all of us were feeling both anxious and glad to see each other’s faces.
As I listened to them, I kept thinking that if every American had friends like these, it would inoculate us from those that label COVID-19 coverage “fake news” and call the virus a “hoax” dreamt up by a political party. When you talk to a real live mom who tell you first-hand about what is happening in her community, it gives you context for your own situation and the news you consume.
Over email, I’ve continued to see more lockdown stories from Belgium, Switzerland, South Africa, and Portugal. In South Africa, they are only now starting to brace themselves for COVID-19 as it took longer to reach them. Racial issues persist as they battle a mis-informed rumor that only white people can catch the virus. Our Belgian mom is a scientist who shifted her attention to tending her garden as she can no longer access her lab. Switzerland was ahead of us in terms of remote learning, so our Swiss mom hopes they will reach a more normal state now that the teachers have things running smoother. A mother in Portugal tells us that the police are enforcing the stay-at-home order, but they are tentatively celebrating a flatter curve than Spain despite a shared geography on the Iberian peninsula.

I hope we’ll be able to share some of these stories soon at soon. In the meantime, it’s a source of joy and comfort to me to know that my fellow moms are out there doing the best they can to bring comfort and routine to their families and friends. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Social Distancing is Kindness: #FlattenTheCurve

I've been a global health advocate working on infectious diseases for over 10 years now. But this Sunday morning (instead of going to church) I'm writing to you as a science-loving mom to encourage a shift in attitude about how we view a world-wide and national plea for social distancing. 

I'm well aware that a policy of social distancing goes directly against a core American ideal of individualism ("I have the right to do what I want and you can't stop me!"). But Americans are compassionate, too. Together, we can turn an attitude of forced isolation to one of solidarity in kindness.

The Science of #FlattenTheCurve
It's now too late to stop the spread of the corona virus, so we need to take every precaution to SLOW the spread. That's what people mean when they use the phrase "Flatten the Curve." They're talking about a graph representing the number of daily cases over time. This graph from the CDC shows what we are trying to achieve with social distancing: a reduction in the outbreak's peak. We want to slow the spread of the virus so that everyone doesn't get sick simultaneously, which would overwhelm our ability to care for everyone.

Source: CDC and distributed by Vox
The most important part of the "Flatten the Curve" graph is the location of the peak in relation to the dotted line. The line shows the limits of our health care system. That's the point where we reach the maximum care that our doctors, nurses, clinics, and hospitals can provide. The worst case of a big spike in COVID-19 would be health care rationing! 

Source: Washington Post
If you really want to geek out with more detail, The Washington Post put out an article today with several excellent simulation models showing how social distancing works.  

The Need for Kindness
Crossing that health care line would be especially alarming because we all know who gets access to anything in the US when a resource is scarce...the wealthy. High-risk medical populations and people experiencing poverty would be most in danger. The virus would spread quickly through populations unable to self-isolate (hourly employees needing money to survive, homeless populations, etc).

Isn't it the most noble thing we can use our personal actions to protect the most vulnerable people? Isn't it an exercise in kindness and compassion to protect the lives of our elders, our neighbors in ill health, and people struggling through this crisis in poverty?

Stephen and April
Folks are worried. They're scared and asking for our help. But don't take it just from me. Read two stories from my friends who depend on our actions to keep them safe.

Steven lives in Syracuse, NY, and is in a life and death struggle with kidney failure every day. I follow him on Twitter because of the way he daily expresses his love of his family, Disney, video games, Huey Lewis & the News, and other things we have in common. But he also tweets about what life is like waiting every day for a kidney.
Source: China Centre for Disease Control & Prevention

Steven says:
"I'm sure this pandemic with COVID-19 is scary for everyone. We have decent protocols in place, but I think things are going to be different for everyone in the next few weeks. Schools closed, events cancelled...some people have lost jobs. It's rough. For me, I worry about being able to get dialysis as well as my increased potential for infection due to being immunocompromised. In all those articles where they talk about the people most at risk...well, that's me. 

And I've fought for so long to survive for my family. I don't want to get sick and have to try and fight this...and if I have to go to the hospital, can I get dialysis? Will they be too overwhelmed? See, I can't put off dialysis. It's not something I can stop doing for a while. I HAVE to do it. Or I die. So, I worry about that. Then I worry about being able to pay our bills. We're stretched as thin as butter over too much bread as it is. We're not sure if my wife can work the next few weeks, either. We're still waiting on word for that. And my "safety cushion" savings got used up long ago. It's an adventure down this road, for sure."

April of St Louis, MO is one of the strongest women I know because of her spirit, and not just because she's one of my TaeKwoDo instructors who carries a sword! She's not a complainer. When injured, she has an incredible tendency to push through all kinds of pain as she performs jump kicks and other physically demanding feats in our workouts. Most people would not think she'd be medically at risk just to look at her.

April says:
"I'm really tired of how little concern some people are showing for those of us who would contract a serious case of COVID-19 and could die from this. Your jokes about the flu also are not comforting or funny. I end up in the hospital every flu season. I won't be one of the "mild" cases, so when you make fun of those of us who are showing concern and taking caution, you're showing me you really don't care about my well-being. Please stop. I am scared and if you can't be a decent human being and empathize with those of us who aren't as lucky and healthy as you are, please just do us all a favor and don't say anything at all."

So what can we do? Author Cindy Wang Brant posted this brainstorming exercise a family did with "Family Quarantine of Love" written right at the top of it to remind them all that these sacrifices are acts of love. 

My last note is that none of us will get banners or balloons if we do a great job with this. A successful social distancing policy will look to critics as if there was never an emergency and we over-reacted. As with most acts of kindness, we must be willing to do the unpopular thing. We have to do the right thing when we know no one is looking. Do it for the Stevens, the Aprils, your grandparents, and people relying on soup kitchens. Do it because you care.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Importance of Showing Gratitude

You know what my favorite kind of advocacy action is? It's the Thank You. I'm a mom and through my children, I see firsthand time and time again the power that a show of gratitude has to transform a mood or a relationship. One might think a simple Thank You is the easiest thing there is, but it gets kind of complicated sometimes. I'll get to that, but first let's talk about why Thank You's are good and what form they can take in our advocacy.

What Makes a Thank You So Awesome?
A heartfelt Thank You makes people feel good. It just does. It makes people feel seen and respected. You might have the impression that a U.S. Senator or Representative is seen in the media all the time and has all the respect of the office that they could want, but I don't believe that's true. They are human. They get constant criticism in the public eye. Maybe even more than most of us, they crave respect. When they go out on a limb to do something for the common good and it never gets reported in the media, it can sour them on making that effort. Why bother when no one cares? A genuine Thank You can turn an attitude around for them, just like it can for us. 

It's not only the members who can be profoundly affected by gratitude. Aides tell me that most constituents who meet with them are coming to tell them off for doing things the constituents don't like. I had one staffer get a little teary after I showed her pictures of children in Uganda with brighter futures because of a vote from my Congresswoman. She said, "You know, no one comes in here to thank us like this." I guarantee you she was all ears to hear our next request. Aides are the invisible folks in the background working long hours. We have the power to make them feel appreciated when we take the time to recognize their efforts!

How Can We Thank Members of Congress?
These are all ways I express gratitude to my members of Congress when they take action I asked them to do.

A hand-written note
You can use a piece of lined notebook paper or a pretty card just like you would send to your Grandma! The hand-writing ensures the office knows that you didn't simpycut and paste a message. You really took the time to do it personally! 

A phone call to the members' office
It doesn't take much time to call up and say thanks. If you have 5-10 friends call with you, it can make quite an impression that multiple voters are watching and caring what they do.

A face-to-face thank you to the member or their aide in a sit down meeting
Nothing sets the tone of a meeting more positively than a Thank You. Even if your member hasn't done anything for you yet, you can thank them for their service. Every election, your member of Congress is out in front of your community for judgement. They constantly travel back and forth from home to the capitol. That's a drag. You can also thank them for choosing to be in a position to help millions of people. (With your meeting request, you'll have just the way for them to do that, right?) You can at least thank them for those things. 

A public thank you in a letter to the editor
Even better than a private Thank You is one that a lot of people can see in the local newspaper! When you get a letter to the editor published that tells the folks back home about something great that the member has done, you're doing them a favor and you're showing them that you are a person of influence. You could easily also write about them NOT taking your actions, right? These letters to the editor are handy in those face-to-face meetings I mentioned above. It adds more weight to your verbal words. (For advice on how to get on published see my Advocacy Made Easy: Writing a Letter to the Editor blog)

Why are Thank You's Sometimes Hard?
The hardest time to thank is when the member of Congress is working in opposition to policies or ideals that you hold dear. Unfortunately, this happens quite a lot in our current toxic political atmosphere. Politics are unbelievably messy. I believe this is mostly because people and their endless complexities are messy. Many times, I've been looking at a member of Congress thinking "How could they possibly be doing X which is so horrible when we convinced them to do Y on this other issue which is so great?" It's hard to grasp. Sometimes those hurtful things make me want to give up and disengage, but then who would be there to help them do the things that help people in need?

At the end of outreach training sessions, I often invite participants to take an easy advocacy action like writing a Thank You note. It helps to both solidify a member's position in our favor and it helps the new volunteers learn about something positive the member did. I've had potential volunteers at my training sessions tell me at the end of the workshop, "Look, I admire what you're doing, but I could never thank that person for anything" and walk out. I get it. Our polarized culture hardens us into believing the worst about others and what is possible. Yet because my cause is so important to the people I serve, I write the Thank You's anyway. I think it helps to change my heart, so I can continue the work.

You may not like everything everyone does, but when they do something good, it's really good to acknowledge it. In fact, it's good for both of you.

I'm talking about politics. I'm talking about parenting. I'm talking about friendship. Actually...I think I'm talking about every kind of relationship there is!

Have you had a good experience where a Thank You set the tone or turned a negative situation around? Let me know!