Photo: COVID-19 Resurgence, Recovery, and Response

Listening with an Empathetic Ear: COVID-19 Community Conversations

Posted on August 30, 2021 by Connor LaGrange, TPF Fellow 2021/22
Recently, The Patterson Foundation hosted three community conversations centered around the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, TPF intended to host discussions regarding the road to recovery as we emerged from COVID. However, COVID-19 had plans of its own and has come roaring back.

The TPF team quickly realized the conversation could not be centered around a recovery that was not yet ready to happen. TPF pivoted and decided on the topic of "COVID-19 Resurgence, Recovery, and Response." The goal was to have a conversation not centered around seemingly uncontrollable things (i.e., governmental or business policy). Rather, the purpose was to center the dialogue around the personal lives of those who felt vulnerable and brave enough to share.

Although each of the three community conversations was unique, and each participant brought their own life experiences to the table, there were common themes woven throughout. Those commonalities were: 1) Frustration/Confusion, 2) Angst, 3) Hope.

If you were thinking to yourself, "That is quite the line-up of emotions," you would be right. When this foundation ushers people into a community conversation, the hope is that barriers are broken down, and people can feel safe and secure to share what is really on their hearts and minds.

To the first commonality, people are frustrated with COVID. There is anxiety around the continued disruption of life. Many lamented their belief in "two weeks to slow the spread" as we round the corner on 17 months with no slowing down in sight. There is confusion surrounding who is an authoritative source and who isn't. One participant said, "I feel very confused because COVID is not in my field of expertise, and I have been put in the position to trust people who I do not know."

Some grieved the amount of trust they have lost in both institutions and everyday people. We were reminded of the constant movement from coping to Adapting to innovating and back again. Some were angered and confused at others unwillingness to get with the program. "Many seem to not even be on the spectrum of cope, adapt, innovate. They are simply living as they did even before the pandemic," stated another participant.

With COVID being such a controversial and divisive topic, it is a fine line to walk between constructive critiques of what is transpiring and downright anger. Living in this space is what seems to cause many community members tremendous amounts of angst.

As one participant said, "we are between adapting and innovating because everything needs a plan B and C right now." So many feel that the pressures of the unknown continue to make their interactions and activities in their daily lives constantly in flux.

With many Suncoast region schools seeing an uptick in cases in the first few days of the year and a continued surge throughout the general populace, many found themselves in the familiar situation of attempting to homeschool while still working from home. The tension would leave anyone feeling stressed and tired.

The pain, grief, frustration, and confusion of the last year and a half have not been able to take away the hope our community members had. It was truly remarkable to listen to the participants' resilience as each spoke to their aspirations moving forward.

Their main aspiration moving forward for their communities was a shared sense of responsibility. We discussed what (if any) silver linings there were which emerged from the pandemic. "There have been some silver linings, being able to bring those into whatever our new normal is – like Zoom and working remotely – being able to see those things incorporated," one community member said.

Others thought activities like community conversations could be the answer. "It is so difficult with people who believe they are doing the right thing on both sides. We need more forums like this where we weave our tapestries together and listen in a mutual space and listen to each other's thoughts and develop more empathy to meet people where they are." Or, as another said, "This has been an amazing conversation, and it has helped me tremendously on a personal level. I need to get over anger and fear. I need to get back to being bold and safe."

When TPF turns outward, the goal is to create a space where people feel safe and subsequently emboldened to turn their aspirations into actions within their community. TPF's Aspirations to Actions initiative demonstrates the foundation's desire to strengthen people, organizations, and communities while creating safe havens that foster wide participation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been complex for all of us. Although we may be in different boats, we are all weathering the same storm. These discussions remind us that if we can stay vulnerable with each other, collective good can emerge.

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