What will the new economy of relationships look like? 

This past week, we held a board meeting after carrying out a newly established routine of obsessively disinfecting all the surfaces, ordering individually wrapped breakfast items, and setting out the only bottle of hand sanitizer we had. Greeting people with a hug and standing near another to connect has always been our way, but instead, we greeted with air high fives, gentle bows with hands together as if in prayer, and warm smiles from a distance. And I began wondering, what will the new economy of relationships look like, if we are forever changed by COVID-19?

An old classic came to mind, “How to Win Friends And Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. It’s not really about winning friends – it’s about being a friend. It’s about being genuinely interested in other people and helping them get what they want and need. The book was written in 1936 and I was thinking about what the world looked like then. There were a lot of needs.

After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the world was plunged into an economic downfall so massive that it wasn’t named a depression. It was named The Great Depression. There was immediate and unexpected devastation, loss and certainty. The 1930’s also suffered the worst drought in American history and severe dust storms known as “black blizzards” that swept away soil and destroyed not only the current crops, but the ability to produce new crops. The President at the time, Herbert Hoover, didn’t do much to ease the crisis, hoping instead that people would be patient and self-reliant. And remember, World War I was still a vivid memory, and by the late 1930’s, World War II was already on the horizon. Disasters abounded. Does this feel a bit familiar? We are in the midst of economic uncertainty, political uncertainty, a global pandemic, and many other unnamed challenges. There are a lot of needs.

As we consider what it looks like to deepen our relationships in this climate, Dale Carnegie’s most well-known advice comes to mind: Become genuinely interested in other people. So, what does this look like in today’s world?

  • Be a good listener. Find out what’s happening in the lives of people you care about. Find out about the struggles others are facing. Remember they may be hurting. Their company may be in crisis. They may not be working enough to stay afloat. Give them the space to be heard and understood.
  • Turn your listening into action. Put your experience, expertise, and intention to work by actively figuring out how to meet another person’s need. Caring doesn’t make a lot of difference if we’ve fallen into a deep well, and we need someone to walk by and simply throw down a rope.

As Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky so beautifully put it, “Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every foot we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise, (and I would add an action taken).”