It’s impossible to escape what has happened over the past few months, which I soon discovered when I sat down to lend some thought to this post with the perhaps naïve intention of trying not to mention the events that have unravelled this year. As I continued to write it became clear that discussing pretty much anything of relevance is incomplete without reference to the effects of the pandemic.
I was writing from my own experiences, my fears and the uncertainty the future holds for an industry that I found quite accidentally but of which I’m extremely fond and hold dearly. I guess what I want to say, as much to myself as anyone, is that although we are still unclear as to what the future may bring, it can still be exciting! And we in the industry can be part of making that happen. First we need to know what we’re dealing with here. In March we watched in bewilderment as our beloved events industry came to a halt, which left us with plenty of time on our hands to sit around in our pants, drinking wine and eating too much. I was convinced that the industry would return with little to no changes and I just have to be patient for a little longer. Unfortunately, I’d foolishly underestimated the magnitude of the situation.
It was hard to keep track of the days (back in the day a Wednesday and Friday evening were two very different experiences – which is great if you’re Deliveroo), the weeks merged into one another and before I knew it, a month had passed. Or was it two months? I love being around people, I love sharing fleeting moments, hearing your ideas, thoughts and feelings. That’s why I get dressed and make myself presentable to the world. Instead, in the early weeks of lockdown I was starting to resemble something between Hagrid and Chuck from Cast Away (and with the lack of salons open it has only got worse). Not having any social interaction was starting to take its toll and I was losing my sense of purpose. Recognising that my own mental health was compromised. I took action. I found myself on Zoom calls with friends and family, took part in physical exercise and restored as much of my routine as possible. These feelings (for me) were a symptom of the situation into which we were thrown. I like to think of myself as proactive under stress, so I decided to find out more about the emotional turbulence that seems to have affected more lives than the actual virus.
Acting to save lives from COVID-19, governments around the world ordered people to stay home and socially isolate. The toll on human relationships has been heartbreaking, with people barred from visiting elderly parents in nursing homes or hospitals, and people forced to die completely alone or to say goodbye via speakerphone. As the world slowly opens up, complex social distancing measures will continue to keep us physically apart, and new waves of the virus could even send us home again. We may be in for a long socially distant, touch-less and contact- free future, so psychologically traumatic that our anxieties around physical closeness could last years after the pandemic. Experts are predicting a skyrocketing loneliness crisis that will create a wave of mental illness, suicide, substance abuse, and violence borne of social isolation, especially for our most vulnerable people: the young, the old, the poor, and migrants. The bitter irony – or tragedy – is that pre-virus, experts increasingly agreed that we were experiencing a loneliness crisis unprecedented in human history. Socially isolated populations have been exploding in most countries. Experts have been talking about the “loneliness epidemic for years, and now is the time to act. As Dr. Vivek Murthy, 19th Surgeon General of the United States, argues, loneliness is the “largest and most under-appreciated force for addressing many of the critical problems we’re dealing with, both as individuals and society.” and we now have a “significant opportunity... to thicken and broaden (our) relationships. For decades we have been eating at smaller and smaller tables with fewer and fewer kin. It’s time to find ways to bring back the big tables.”
Bringing Back The Big Tables
There are various different aspects that can be explored and applied to combat loneliness and other mental health issues, experts have broken these down into at least 6 dimensions:
- 1. Physical: A healthy body through exercise, nutrition, sleep, etc.
- 2. Mental: Engagement with the world through learning, problem-solving, creativity, etc.
- 3. Emotional: Being in touch with, aware of, accepting of, and able to express one’s feelings (and those of others).
- 4. Spiritual: Our search for meaning and purpose in human existence.
- 5. Social: Connecting with, interacting with, and contributing to other people and our communities.
- 6. Environmental: A healthy physical environment free of hazards; awareness of the role we play in bettering rather than denigrating the natural environment.
Over the years we’ve been immensely proud as we watch participants interact over and with our products. Until now I was unaware that Thought Bubbles play a role, however temporary the interaction, in the physical, mental and social. I was deep in thought again. Proper stroke-my-beard, run my hands through my unruly mane kind of deep thinking with some prolonged staring out of the window.
All that thinking has led me to reevaluate what is important within our event spaces, we need to create participation where we connect below the surface and have meaningful conversations, replace those fleeting moments with lasting relationships and ask ‘how does this make our audience feel?’ Because when we get back together and open the doors to events of all shapes and sizes, common to all of them will be a strong desire for us to connect meaningfully with one another, with a renewed insight into the importance of our shared lives on this fragile blue ball floating in space.
When creating your space think about how it could make your audience feel. How can you help bring people together? How many dimensions can you include? Great things will happen when we start to introduce these dimensions as goals (or even standards). Our industry can contribute towards positive mental health, change lives and bring deeper meaning to our events. As we wait patiently for the news that we all want to hear, we wish you the very best and look forward to talking in the not too distant future, when we can share a laugh about how ridiculous the elbow bump was.
Hang in there! Dan