Photo by Filip Zrnzević on Unsplash

Crisis and Culture

What does crisis tell us about our culture? Many people avoid the word culture because there are varying interpretations of its definition. But culture is essential to describing a society’s collective values. Those values influence behavior, which ultimately reflects a group’s shared identity. Regardless of environment, culture matters, especially during times of crisis.

It’s easy to see images of social distancing around the globe and postulate about how other people have responded to the current pandemic, but I’m going to focus on three aspects of American culture I have seen most clearly: insularity, consumerism and independence.

Insularity

When news stories broke about an unusual flu sweeping across China, our initial reaction was one where our insularity was most apparent. As the most powerful and prosperous nation on the planet, we did not believe that Covid-19, originating in a country so far away from us physically and culturally, would ever impact us. In response to reports on the coronavirus, we remembered tales of SARS or the Avian Flu and used our collective memories to assuage our fears. More importantly, we believed that our wealth or influence would protect us.

But history has proven that crisis does not discriminate against how a nation looks, how much money it generates or how many weapons it amasses. Much like other crises in recent years, America is just as vulnerable to unexpected pain and destruction than any other nation. While our insularity shielded us from anxiety, it also curbed our response.

Consumerism

When communities in the U.S. first learned about Covid-19, their first instinct was to not stay indoors, but shop. People around the country rushed to their grocery stores to stockpile everyday items such as bread, milk and toilet paper. The influx of traffic at local stores resulted in barren shelves. As the richest country in the world, it’s fascinating to see that in spite of our abundance, we choose shopping as the method to cope with our fears. The consumer behavior I witnessed a few weeks ago reminded me of the buying frenzy that occurred during the Y2K scare when people believed that entering the new millennium would break our computers. We are fortunate to live with such abundance, but it’s remarkable to witness how our economic well-being often skews our behavior to believe that more is better, and the acquisition of goods will keep us safe. What if instead of rushing to the stores a few weeks ago, we bought masks and supported our frontline health workers?

Independence

As a country born from a revolutionary war, we pride ourselves in our independence. Our independence is inextricably tied to our identity as a nation. Yet most of the time that independence is perceived through the lens of civil liberties.

When Covid-19 moved from a topic of obscurity to one that stoked our collective fear, the reaction from the nation was of ‘me.’ My well being. My family. My home. Thanks to our affluence, we tend to forget that as a species we are interdependent; not independent. We yearn for connection, not isolation. And as one week blurs into the next, we increasingly see more examples of the human need to build relationships. The virtual dance parties, dinner dates and meetups all prove that. But why did it take weeks of a global pandemic for us to be reminded of our need for connection?

The Opportunity Ahead

Surprisingly, crisis is a Greek word that means ‘decisive point.’ Not tragedy. Not catastrophe. Despite the multiple global crises experienced in the past 20 years, Covid-19 feels different. Why? Because the coronavirus strikes at the one thing we cannot avoid: our mortality.

Although this crisis feels different than those etched in our collective memory, there is still an opportunity to evolve as a country because culture is is malleable through the actions of its people. This is our point in history where we must decide whether we shed the values and beliefs that no longer serve us. That decision requires some reflection and a desire to change. We can use this “new normal” as the moment to reevaluate what we hold so dearly, and ask “why?”

It is my hope that we use this crisis to start a new chapter in our history. Instead of focusing on how things were, I hope that we use our collective privilege, empathy, and diversity in new ways so that we may serve our communities and country for the unexpected demands of tomorrow.

--

--

--

Strategic thinker. Creative problem solver. Designer. Image maker. Writer.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

“Hamlet” and dead dads (Almeida Theatre, Andrew Scott/dir. Robert Icke)

Space Ghost reigns in the Super Hero era!!! From the mind of Alex Toth…

This day in history

Want a tattoo? Wait until you’re 30

Long Live the Bodega

Glory Days: Introducing a New Series on the Value and Loss of a Working Class Aesthetic in a…

Nostalgia so Powerful: A Look at Johnny Depp’s Overly Dedicated Fanbase

What Jeffree Star and Jake Paul have in common

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Theos Stamoulis

Theos Stamoulis

Strategic thinker. Creative problem solver. Designer. Image maker. Writer.

More from Medium

How to Engage Communities in an Age of Tribalism

Evaluating and Comparing the Effects of Climate Change

Is sustainable future a utopia?

How A Single Individual Can Help Our Global Crisis