COVID 19 has ushered in a new way of living and communicating across Ireland and other parts of the world. The response of both civic and civil society has been swift in an attempt to ‘flatten the curve’ and to avoid any unnecessary spread and further fatalities of the virus. It is a particularly anxious time for families and communities. There are unprecedented challenges. Families are missing the physical presence of their loved ones whilst they comply with social distancing and ‘cocooning’ guidelines. Individuals, families and communities are missing the normality of their daily lives. What was once taken for granted and was perhaps seen as a chore now seems a luxury. Simple things like travelling on public transport, going to work, queuing up at the supermarket or post office, driving to a different location to take a walk are now all questioned as to their necessity and rightly so. We need to keep in mind the importance of adhering to social distancing and cocooning in accordance with the advice of the government and health services. This is particularly challenging for families and people who traditionally have used Easter as a time to get away and spend time together and are now not in a position to do so.
According to Seppala (2012) feeling connected to others has multiple health and social benefits. High social connectedness leads to more trusting and cooperative relationships. The opposite is also true, low social connectedness is associated with a decline in physical and psychological health and can lead to isolation and a further deterioration in mental health. For people to ‘self-actualize’ (achieving one’s full potential), Maslow (1943) lists the number of needs which need to be met in individuals. Maslow begins with the basic needs where food, water, warmth and rest are at the bottom of the pyramid. As Maslow moves up the pyramid he includes safety, belonging and esteem. If people have all their needs met there is a stronger likelihood of them reaching the top of the pyramid (self-actualization). Feeling connected is a recurring theme in relation to positive mental health and having the capacity to face up to and overcome challenges.
COVID 19 has been recognized as a major challenge to humanity. The Irish Times referred to the present crisis as a ‘challenge unlike any other’ (March 27th 2020). The Irish government have made it clear that everyone must do their part and that ‘we are all in this together’. Those words will serve to promote a sense of connection and a sense of responsibility to one another. Robert Putman (1970) coined the term ‘Social Capital’. It refers to ‘connections among individuals, social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them’. The presence of Social Capital, according to Putman, will facilitate action and cooperation for mutual benefit. His theory stated that the United States has undergone an unprecedented collapse in civic, social and associational life since the 1960s. Putnam treated Social Capital as a public good, civic orientation and trust in others.
Social Capital has come into its own in Ireland since the outbreak of COVID 19. New ways of connecting have been discovered. More networks have been established. Community organisations are working together with a common purpose. Peoples’ civic responsibility has been reignited. People have become more creative in finding ways to stay connected and to look out for people in their communities who may be isolated. There is a pride which exists now that has not been evident for some time. The hope is, that when this is all over and put to bed, Social Capital, connectedness, the civic actions that are evident in all communities will continue and that we will be more connected because of it. This will result in more people becoming ‘self actualized’ as long as we continue to work together in the spirit of reciprocity, trust and mutual societal benefit.