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Opinion: Finding gratitude, lessons within a crisis

Truth Be Told

Posted online

If there’s an overarching hope I have from this crisis we’re collectively facing, it has to be this: This will not all be in vain.

Watching the death toll and number of COVID-19 cases grow in the United States over this past month has felt unreal. Our way of life has shifted so drastically and so quickly, and while that has brought challenges to be sure, it’s also brought incredible innovation and a sense of gratitude as we get back to what’s truly important.

This new normal has taught us all lessons. Here are four I’m hoping stick.

1. Compassion in the workplace. Many of us are adjusting to the new normal of working from home. Prior to the crisis, only 7% of workers nationwide had the option to regularly work remotely, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But recently, 42% of Springfield Business Journal readers reported they’re now working from home. That’s a huge shift in processes and communication. When I interviewed Nichole Lemmon, Springfield Public School’s director of digital learning, she shared a great mantra: flexibility and grace. That’s how SPS is operating as it navigates managing 3,600 employees and 25,000 students remotely.

This is an opportunity for workplaces to shine – or not. How employees are treated during this crisis will be a defining moment in a business’ brand. Employees who are taken care of will find solutions to new problems. Employees who are valued will put in extra hours when needed. Employees who benefit from compassionate leaders will innovate products and services to meet this moment.

2. Value in truth. The importance of trustworthy governmental bodies and media outlets is never more important than in a crisis. Not all information is created equally, and unfortunately a crisis is a perfect opportunity to spread falsehoods, innocently or not. A month ago, I interviewed Greene County Commissioner Harold Bengsch and this was his biggest piece of advice after decades in public health and public service.

“When you’re dealing with a crisis-type issue, there’s going to be rumors flying thick and fast,” he said. “It’s very difficult for the average individual who is not directly involved to separate the fact from fiction. And getting the correct information to the public in a believable manner is critical, as quick as you can do it.”

Who and what must be evaluated. It’s not enough that something seems right. It must be right. In this crisis, trusting bad information can be the difference between sickness and health, life or death. As reporting truth is my profession, it’s painful to watch some of the information being shared today. We’d all be wise to learn the difference between news and commentary, and stick to the sources that we know we can rely on.

3. Power in spending local. A recent report by The Washington Post paints a grim picture of the country’s economic health. American consumers drive 70% of the country’s economy, the report reads, but spending at restaurants and retail stores has plummeted. Sales at clothing stores fell nearly 51% in March from a year ago. Food and beverage stores fared much better, as sales were up 28%, according to data from the Commerce Department.

The idea of spending dollars locally has never felt more critical There are some local businesses that simply won’t survive. It’s heartening to see the valiant effort put forth by local companies to adjust. So many of them have found ways to keep their employees on the payroll, and shift to new ways to serve customers. I want my favorite coffee shops, breweries, restaurants and retailers to be here when we’re able to go out again, so I’m committed to supporting them now in whatever way I can.

4. Resurgence of community. Being at home all day has caused me to think of community on an even smaller scale – my neighborhood and my street. In the past month, I’ve connected with more neighbors via phone and letters than ever before. It’s renewed my sense of what it means to be a good citizen, and why we only make it through crises when we come together.

I’m also amazed at the way nonprofits have shifted their services and fundraising efforts during this time. The needs that already existed in our community can’t be ignored, even as the pandemic creates even more challenges to face. From small acts of kindness, such as neighbors making masks for one another, to huge acts like Community Foundation of the Ozarks creating a $1 million fund to support nonprofits providing essential human services, there’s no other community I would want to be in during this uncertain time.

When the stay-at-home orders lift, we’ll be entering a different world than we left. Things won’t simply return to business as usual – and in some ways, that’s something to be grateful for.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor 
Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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