A pandemic spanning across the planet, caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome(SARS) Corona-Virus 2, is a new challenge for us, as a global community, to navigate through. Residents of North Americans saw the virus infecting and killing multitudes as it rounded the globe last winter. Upon arrival in our respective cities (and, recall that day) everything changed. Suddenly, there was a solidarity that spanned oceans and crossed borders, as slogans like ‘We are in this Together’ started to emerge. Suddenly, the attention was on leadership everywhere. What was going to happen next? How would we carry on from that point? Everything became bubbles.
Fear was in the messaging, in the early days of COVID-19. Directives like ‘self-evaluate for symptoms’, ‘self-isolate’, ‘wash and scrub your hands’, ‘wear a mask’, ‘sterilize all surfaces’ and ‘remain at least 6ft away from another’, to name a few of them, were common soundbites on news media, on newspaper headlines every day and pinned by posters to walls in every public space. Prior to acquiring the virus, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, encouraged the proper length of a good hand wash to be the span of 20 seconds or so and, best if done to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday to you’1. In these early days of the pandemic, other ideas for best hygiene practise and health-preservation arose, the most famous being ‘social distancing’ which, eventually was referred to as ‘the Bubble’ or even, ‘bubbling’.
The concept of ‘the bubble’ arose from the advice of national health authorities for people to protect a space between themselves and others of no less than 6ft (or, 2m). ‘The bubble’ has become ‘a powerful tool of pandemic response enforcement’2, even though it may come across as sounding ‘non-scientific, vaguely frivolous, lighter than air and a bit silly.’3While the ‘Bubble’ idea is intended to encourage isolation in order to protect one’s physical integrity from the virus, its analogy can be extended in other ways as well.
The space that bubbles encapsulate is intended to be kept as a safe area. The bubble represents a boundary layer around a person and, with it, the hope that it (the bubble) will be both acknowledged (its presence) and respected (its integrity).
Renner and D’Souza consider leaders as ‘holding space’4. Holding space, in the context of community and organisation, in the time of the ‘bubble’, requires a deeper sensitivity and attention. Every space is an anxious space. Employment and health are never guaranteed and, less so now. Equality is never a guarantee and, less so now. Truth is never a guarantee and, evidently less so now. May our leadership be defined by caring gently, with wisdom and may we engage the world with a well-informed empathy.
Trust cannot be forced; it can only be nurtured. In his article, What Does It Mean/Look Like to Hold Space for Someone, John Kim defines ‘holding space’ as a:
…means to be with someone without judgment. To donate your ears and heart without wanting anything back. To practice empathy and compassion. To accept someone’s truth, no matter what they are. To allow and accept. Embrace with two hands instead of pointing with one finger. To come in neutral. Open. For them. Not you. Holding space means to put your needs and opinions aside and allow someone to just be. Her. Self.5
Leaders can lead with open hands and vulnerable enough to welcome and to listen alone. With one syllable spoken, breath can be taken. One syllable of a response can generate anxiety; the space is ‘let go’ and dropped. Sometimes, beyond the inclination to hold an individual, a leader can simply be the space in which one can be held. The bubbles we are in, hold us in safety. When these are ignorantly breached, anxiety will be presented and an oppressive force felt; there will never be breakthrough. May the way we express ourselves be mindful of those we care for and, that the space we hold and represent, in these ‘less’ times, be safe.
- “Boris Johnson Sings Happy Birthday While Washing His Hands.” March 6, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWfZGdLeDl4.
- Brean, Joseph. “COVID-19: As Canadians Look to Social Recovery, the Multi-Household Bubble Catches On.” National Post. April 27, 2020. https://nationalpost.com/news/0428-na-bubbles.
- Brean. “COVID-19: As Canadians Look to Social Recovery.”
- Renner, Diana and Steven D’Souza. Not Doing: The Art of Effortless Action.New York, New York: LID Publishing Limited, 2018.
- Kim, John. “What Does It Mean/Look Like to Hold Space for Someone?: A Crucial Tool for Life Coaches and Relationships.’ Psychology Today. October 29, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-angry-therapist/201910/what-does-it-meanlook-hold-space-someone