Global Development Studies

Choosing Love in Turbulent Times

by Isabel C.


Given the unprecedented emergence of Covid-19, communities across the globe have been tasked to face the physical, financial, and social ramifications of the pandemic. Although individuals may be finding themselves being ushered back to normal life, it is clear that there still is a greater unspoken consequence of the coronavirus: the lingering uncertainty of what the future might hold. 

On January 29th, following the news of a possible novel outbreak in Wuhan, I traveled from Shanghai back to the United States for precautionary measures. After serving my two-week home quarantine, I felt liberated. Yet, this sensation lasted only for a short period as soon the U.S. began to witness “hot spots,” where a large concentration of people tested positive for the virus. As the number of coronavirus patients began rapidly increasing, I noticed a growing intensity around my local neighborhood. Many households flooded the grocery stores, lining up for hours just to buy essentials. As I walked by these individuals, though they were unfamiliar faces, they shared a common expression: fear. 

Fear often brings out the worst in human nature. With each passing day, fear has only grown more palpable in the U.S. Through the incessant news, frightening death toll, and unnatural social distancing, individuals have struggled with isolation, mental health, and financial worries. For a teenager, financial impacts are more theoretical, but the recent reports of racial discrimination have appalled me, including both the discrimination of Asians in the U.S. and foreigners in Asia. I fall into both categories and am saddened to witness coronavirus fueling racism and hatred, especially when such circumstances have the potential to bring people closer together than ever before. Driven by the opportunity to make a difference in my local community of San Diego, I conducted multiple empathy interviews on the topic of discrimination, prior to the creation of my #ChooseLove campaign. I believe that hatred alongside hurtful actions can be truly detrimental to both the physical and mental well-being of individuals. A similar theme that has been evident in each of my interviews is the growing animosity towards those of Asian heritage due to the coronavirus. 

We as humans tend to prefer others who are similar to us. Meaning, that we create a bias towards those who share the same tastes in food, music, clothing, etc. which can lead to the formations of different groups based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. With this in mind, I believe we must begin asking ourselves how we can overcome this natural bias against individuals or groups who are different than us. So how might we help change our mindset and take steps towards eradicating racism and hatred in our communities?

During my interview with Andrew Zhang, he said, “I believe that the best way to eradicate racism from our communities is to normalize minority groups. We should treat minorities and majorities the same to achieve equality.” Professor Huang’s perspective on discrimination was very unique and informative. He talked about how governments are the largest influencers of the news, which is how the majority of American people create an understanding of current events. In regards to racism against the Asian community in the United States due to the coronavirus, it was implied through our conversation that “individuals must be aware of the possible exaggeration in the news sources” and not act on our prejudices against others. According to Yi Lan, who is an Asian activist on social media: “Nowadays, it is very difficult to communicate or express your opinion without feeling like you are completely safe from other people’s criticism.” She says that she often encounters people who leave comments that are unnecessarily cruel and racist. When asked about how we as a society can eradicate our biases and prejudgments, she believes that it must start with educating the younger generation so that “they become more tolerant of diversity.”

In addition to my interviews, I think it is important to note that people generally know right from wrong. However, fear often evokes shame and fear which can significantly influence a person’s future actions. Similarly, shame and fear tend to hinder individuals from reaching the overarching goal which is to overcome challenges and advocate for themselves. Similar to my campaign, I think one of the challenges will be to convince people to overcome their fears regarding the coronavirus, people who look Asian, as well as the tendency to want to isolate from others in a time where we need to be united as a community (perhaps not physically but emotionally). We can take steps to eradicate racial discrimination by educating the younger generation, and increasing diversity in communities. 

In response to everything I learned, I decided to create the #ChooseLove campaign to educate and unite our communities during these turbulent times through small acts of kindness. We must respond with words of inspiration and hope to show the human capacity to love. Starting an entire campaign from scratch, however, can be very daunting. In my first week, I began researching successful campaigns to understand how their movement developed over time and how they were able to connect with their target audience through different media platforms. The first campaign that I researched, was the #MeToo movement. Tarana Burke, activist, and founder of the #MeToo movement shared the hashtag “#MeToo” to symbolize the widespread nature of sexual assault and harassment, and also to convey empowerment to women around the globe. Being a simple and yet significant phrase on social media made it easier to share with others. Therefore, the power of the phrase gave women the confidence that they were not alone which propelled self-awareness and the movement itself. Next, I revisited the Always #LikeAGirl campaign dedicated to redesigning the stereotypes of girls.

Although the video was intended as an ad for the company Always, filmmaker and director Lauren Greenfield used this opportunity to address something she was passionate about. By “[witnessing] the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand,” Greenfield created such a powerful video by first examining people’s bias towards the meaning of doing something “like a girl.” Addressing the issue of stereotyping through self-reflection and self-realization has never been more important. I have learned the importance of using social media to create impact. Furthermore, I began to focus on the target audience of my campaign. Through reaching out to many nonprofit organizations in San Diego, I learned that the food banks in San Diego were in dire need of volunteers and food products to serve the families who were undergoing financial stress. By using this information, I contacted San Diego Food Bank about my campaign and am hopeful to galvanize more San Diegans to donate food through my campaign of spreading love. 

In the second week of my campaign, I was able to reflect on the concept of being thankful, even for the things that I would sometimes overlook. I was able to take time to appreciate the individuals who have been working at the front lines of this pandemic such as doctors and nurses who have selflessly put themselves at risk to help others. Also, the individuals who work tirelessly to do things in our communities like stock shelves at grocery stores, collect trash, drive busses: they all deserve to be called heroes. Therefore, I traveled across my neighborhood to drop off messages of gratitude, encouragement, and hope. I carefully completed this goal by using gloves and leaving the notes on the ground in front of the houses. Through this initiative, I reached 60 homes and delivered messages of encouragement. My messages focused on choosing to love each other and support one another through these uncertain times. In addition to the physical notes, I was able to highlight individuals who #choselove in the simplest of ways (helping elders, volunteering at food banks) and who create impact in their communities. 

In the third and fourth weeks of my campaign, I collected virtual messages and created a collage of strangers from around the world, bringing words of encouragement and love. Next, I redesigned my Instagram page by uploading previous content on more engaging templates. By switching to a cleaner and more aesthetic template, I was able to present the message cohesively and clearly. I also had the honor of having an article I wrote posted in the Shanghai Daily and the Concordia FOCUS newsletter. In my own experience with the GIN Global Ambassadors Program and my internship with a sustainable company, Loop Swim, I realize there are so many ways to get involved in coming up with original ideas to generate change.

The vision statement I have created for my entire campaign is: Despite our differences, uniting our communities during these turbulent times through acts of agape and encouraging the development of active citizens on a global level. 

In my local neighborhood, there was a house across the street that has been rented multiple times by different people in the past two years. In the fifth week of my campaign, there was a report of a potential renter moving in. There was much speculation. I think what was particularly interesting, was the formation of preconceptions in my neighborhood based on personal feelings of uncertainty and curiosity. At first, I was surprised. However, it made me realize that bias was constantly evident and I believe that the first step in eradicating bias is to practice self-reflection. This event sparked a new idea for my social media campaign. Specifically, I chose to divide my social media posting schedule into three sections: insights/research (red posts), resources for individuals who needed essentials (blue posts), little acts of kindness ideas that my audience could implement in their own life (purple posts). Also, to achieve my main goal of embracing Instagram stories and using interactivities features, I attempted to create interactive stories for my followers to stay active in #choosinglove. I focused on the idea of actually committing to actions of love so that each day, individuals could use the story as an accountability platform. This idea was well received by my followers. 

In the past two weeks, I have seen many videos that have shown wildlife entering cities. What more was that I was on the patio in my backyard when I noticed a hummingbird in a nearby tree. At first, it surprised me. For context, I have not seen a hummingbird for a long time. It could just be from not being in San Diego year-round, but as I began to do more research, I found out that a lot of different species have been seen in usually highly populated urban areas. From my learning from AP Environmental Science, I was excited to see almost a “reappearance of nature” and it occurred to me that, as we began to go back to “normal,” now would be a perfect opportunity to educate others on sustainable practices. That being said, I decided to add to my campaign by adding #chooseourplanet. By taking the time to reflect on the fewer negative impacts we have imposed on the environment while being in quarantine, I was able to create new content specifically targeting our consumer lifestyle. Also, I had the opportunity to connect with my local community to increase the appreciation of the essential workers. I was excited to see the new layer of environmental sustainability on top of my theme of choosing love. 

By aspiring to improve mental health and wellbeing in my local community, I created the #chooselove campaign to remind people in my neighborhood that they are not alone and that together we will weather the storm and come out as even better global citizens. #ChooseLove was and will continue to be a call to action for individuals to perform acts of kindness because even the smallest action can have a powerful impact.

Isabel C. is a student of Global Development Studies at Concordia International School Shanghai. She is also the 2020 EARCOS Global Citizen for Concordia.