What can you do for your country?

You know the how horror movies have a stock set of characters? A group of teens goes camping or hiking or whatever. Bad stuff happens. They realize things just got real. There's the joker, the brain, the ditz -- if you saw the movie "The Cabin in the Woods" you know how it goes.

Social media, in a time of crisis, has the same stock characters.

My friend, who is not on Facebook, was asking if there was any coronavirus news on there. "Oh, the usual. Extensive cancellations, people who have suddenly become experts at stats and infectious diseases. And the screaming girl."

"Who's that?"

"She's the one in horror movies who starts screaming and panicking and you just want someone to slap her or knock her out so the rest of the group can figure out what to do."

"Oh, sure."

I have seen a lot of Screaming Character on Facebook.

I remember back to 9/11, and how, for an amazing period of time, the whole country united. It was only temporary, but it was incredible to see how people somehow decided to look out for each other instead of club each other on the head for rice and toilet paper.

President Kennedy was right, back in 1961, when he dared suggest the question we should be asking isn't what our country is going to do for us, but what we will do for it.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

What if this was like 9/11 in that we came together instead of argued about the CIA and CNN and politics and which other citizen was more stupid than another for exhibiting fear and greed that we quietly harbor in our own hearts if it came down to our own or our family's safety on the line? What if we made a decision to care about other people around us instead of demand what the gubmint was gonna do for me and mine?

It might look like this.

Churches, now is your chance.

Adjust your budgets. Rethink your plans of spending on lights and computers and sound systems and all the stuff you don't really need, and prepare now to help people with rent and food and bills that are going to crop up if they miss work from being sick, or if where they work shuts down.

Think about people in your congregation. There are some whose jobs are already affected. They might feel to ashamed to ask, but find out who has a job or work situation has been directly affected by this pandemic in a way that's put them in a financial crunch, and help them. Help your own church body first.

Then, get ready to help others. Make it a consistent plan that lessens the likelihood of people taking advantage. Offer financial help, meal or food delivery to the elderly, grocery or supply shopping for those quarantined or who should be isolated for safety, and other needed supplies.

Spread hope online.

You can spread life or death with your words. So decide now.

Do you want to share uplifting, humorous, helpful, or reassuring content on social media, or do you want to be the person popping in on every comment section with a scary article or video from someone saying this is the end of human civilization and presenting the worst case scenario, liking every post that reminds people to be scared?

As a believer, I know the Truth, and the Truth is hope. You don't have to lie about the reality, but you can choose how you will share that reality. You can share it with hope and humor and encouragement, or you can fill everyone with dread and panic.

  • If you want to be informative, find information that is presented in a way that doesn't generate fear. Facts, not fear, is what North Dakota Gov. Burgum said this week. Share what is known, not what is speculation. Share best-case scenarios if you share worst-case scenarios. Give people information that has something they can tangibly do to make a difference or to protect themselves.
  • Share beautiful and creative things, particularly if it can be learned or done at home. Find the good things on the internet. Share art, radio plays, ebooks, how-to videos -- share what is good.
  • Share what you're reading in the Bible, or start an online Bible study.
  • If you're a business with a digital aspect, how can you give back? What if Lifeway shared some of their Bible study videos online for free? What if RightNow Media opened free access for a few months? What if streaming video companies came out with some great deals for people for a while? I've seen companies providing free internet, no data caps, and free access to material. What if more companies did that?
  • Limit your Covid-19 posts to only a few per day, and let the rest be unrelated. Stop sharing medical posts with unverified information about the virus, about how to treat it, etc.
  • Start a writing group or reading group online, and build a little online community focused on creativity. Use Google Talk or Skype or Zoom or whatever else to connect with people. 
  • Do a blogathon or something similar to raise money for a good cause, all online.
  • Share your mom's favorite recipe, and ask others to share some as well.
  • Post writing prompts or thought-provoking prompts to get people talking about all of the endless things there are to talk about in life that have nothing to do with infectious disease.
  • Share funny memes or videos.
  • Get mailing addresses from your social media friends and send a letter in the mail (unless you're sick).
If you are in a social media group that is negative or is causing you to feel fear, panic, depression, or hopelessness, leave it, or snooze it for 30 days. Avoid social media or at least limit it, if this is a problem. Read a book or do something else instead.

And if you find that you can't stop yourself from sharing scary and negative things, or flooding your feed for weeks on end with non-stop "this is bad, this is bad, take it seriously, this is bad" posts, consider getting off of social media for a bit, because you are likely causing fear in someone else. Don't confuse "informing" people with scaring people. It's not the same thing. Informing empowers. Scaring paralyzes. 

Share your story.

Whether through a blog or on social media or to an email list, share your experience.

With all of the forced social isolation, we need to know we're not alone, that we're not the only one feeling and experiencing these things. So, if you're able, write about what's happening. Share stories of hope, of things you're struggling with, of your physical condition if you go through being sick.

Share your story to connect and to encourage, not to sell products or a brand. Share your story to show others you made it through, to let others know you feel the same things they do. Share your story to provide tips and suggestions for others in your situation.

Behave normally, even if it's a struggle.

Fear grips the heart with an almost palpable pain, and it is difficult to fight off. It is also catchy, and destructive. People are watching, even if it's just your kids around you as you're all stuck in the house for a few weeks. You can join the pushing masses fighting over supplies, or you can give what you have to someone who didn't get anything. You can take all of the Lysol, or you can remember just a few weeks ago how you would never do that during your normal shopping, and choose to behave normally.

Some people will scold you for holding to normalcy, as if you are being dismissive or foolish for ignoring the severity of the situation. Do not feel guilty for refusing to behave as they think you should. Don't be coerced into panic, hoarding, fear, reactionary thinking, or hopelessness. You can still follow the rules and guidelines leaders have set for safety, but still behave normally within them. As a believer in Christ, my hope isn't in hoarding. It's in Jesus. And when I hoard and behave abnormally, that's not the message I'm living out for others.

Behave as a human, not as an animal. Animals behave out of fear.

If you find yourself in a mob in a store, behave normally. Around your kids, behave normally. Around your friends, behave normally. Around yourself...behave normally. Don't let fear be your unspoken message, even to yourself. And be aware of what you are speaking out loud that others are hearing.

Force yourself to follow routine. If you have to make a temporary new routine to take into account working from home or quarantine or whatever else it is, set up a routine and make it the new and steady normal until things go back to how they were.

Take care of your neighborhood.

Knowing how the world is today, I'm willing to bet you don't know who your neighbors are, whether on your street or on your apartment building floor.

Write a card, letting people know your first name and contact info. If you have a blog or are sharing your experience online, put that URL on the card. Somehow let them know if anyone needs anything, you (and hopefully, the rest of the neighborhood) are there to help each other. If you have an elderly neighbor, be sure they have enough supplies and food. Share what you have. Offer to go shopping for them and bring it to them. Return their books to the library.

If you're a landlord who can afford to do so, consider lowering or waiving rent for people. Hourly workers, especially those working in restaurants, are being hit hard as businesses close down and they are suddenly left without a job.

We are not looking out for ourselves. We're looking out for each other. Just like after 9/11. If every neighborhood or apartment building did this, we would be in very good shape.

Stop being a scold.

Some of what I'm seeing people doing boggles my mind.

Panic buying. Hoarding. Almost gleeful in posting fearful content on social media.

I don't understand why they are doing it other than I know that the fear and panic causes otherwise decent people to do these things. So instead of lecturing, mocking, or disparaging others for behavior you think is stupid, instead of calling them out as selfish (which we all are in some way)...why not just love people?

Why not just understand that we all struggle with understanding what's happening, and that disappointment over a cancelled event is a legitimate feeling that doesn't deserve a lecture on Italy and social distancing and flattening the curve? Some of those cancelled events and trips were things people had been hoping for and looking forward to for a long time. Don't make them feel guilt or shame for being upset that hope is dashed. Let them express their anger and sadness.

We are all so fragile and fear-filled. We are so hard on others while we excuse ourselves.

How can you encourage people to do better, behave better, to think about a situation in a different light, other than telling them "you stupid idiot you should be better than that?" Or, if someone is simply a source of non-stop social media posts of fear and negativity about this, just quietly snooze or unfollow them without making a big deal of it.

Scolding creates its own weird shame and fear in a person, which is unnecessary in a time of rampant fear.

Leaders should lead, especially with information.

Leaders need to tell the turth, but they need to do it in a way that doesn't scare people. Here's how you scare people:

  • You don't get in front of the crap rumors and silliness on social media, thinking that nonsense doesn't matter even though people are steeped in it so completely it matters more than anything.
  • You don't hold press conferences or provide legitimate information and leave people scared and prone to speculation. Or, you provide information, but not in places where people are seeing disinformation so the real is eclipsed by the fake.
  • You provide information in a way that people are not able to understand or are not likely to pay attention to (long videos, bad graphics, text-heavy documents, etc.)
  • You don't specifically address erroneous claims being made online.
  • You announce decisions without explaining, even in modest detail, how those decisions came about.
  • You present the situation as a worst-case scenario, eagerly cashing in on podcasters, news media, and other sources that are looking for the scary, sexy take on a disaster.

Find out what people are saying online, those things that are causing fear and bad information. Create informational pieces that are brief and easily understood to combat those specific rumors.

Address the numbers and stats that people are sharing. Most of us don't understand the context, particularly when it comes to being confused about correlation versus causation. We'd appreciate some comparison and contrasting, some explanation of what those numbers mean.

Talk about the worst-case scenarios, but also tell us about the best-case scenarios. Then tell us about the likely middleground and what that will mean for us.

Tell us best practices, and also tell us why. Tell us what is recommended if we get sick, what medicines work for symptoms, how to treat ourselves at home, what to expect. There's a lot of bad medical information being shared online; combat that with simple, factual information.

Tell us the decisions you're making, but also tell us why you made them. Tell us what restrictions there are, but tell us what benchmarks will mean those restrictions would likely go away.

Again, you can present the truth and reality without scaring people. The best information coming from a leader is honest without being terrifying. If you know things are going to get bad, but won't last, let people know. Prepare them, but put it in context and perspective.


Fear is the real outbreak here. I'm not joking. Yes, leaders are right to deal with the pandemic, but we each have to do what it takes to keep fear from infecting us. Fear is turning people into animals, shoppers into mobs, and social media into a playground for scolds, the faux educated, and the conspiracy theorists.

We're so busy telling people to wash their hands and to social distance and to understand why everything is being cancelled and to show them numbers from Italy that we aren't aware how much fear we're infecting them with.

Wash your hands, but wash your minds. If social media (or any media) is filling you with fear, wash your hands of it. Social-media distancing is legitimate. Remove yourself from it, or from those fear-feeding behaviors. You have no need to know everything at the moment it breaks. Step away from it.

You can.

I give you permission.

You're allowed to enjoy life even in the midst of all of this. You're allowed to smile, to bake some cookies, to take the dog for a walk, or to relax at home on the couch with a good book. Spring is here in a few days. Walk into it fear-free!