Five Acts of Social Solidarity

By Montecito Journal   |   March 26, 2020

Some credit to Émile Durkheim, the pioneering French Sociologist, with originating the concept of social solidarity which he defined as the “the interdependence between individuals and across groups.” In fact, the description served for Durkheim as a synonym for the normal healthy state of society, what holds society together, an essential tool for combating infectious diseases, particularly in the face of a worldwide pandemic.

Best-selling novelist Martha Cooley, author of the national bestseller The Archivist and Thirty-Three Swoons, has been living in a tiny rural village in Italy as the pandemic has swept across that country. As we’ve seen around the world, and now here in the United States, the spread of the virus peaks in a particular city or area creating a spike and hotspot of illness. So many people require hospital care at once, some gravely ill, that doctors and nurses become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of care required. Some healthcare givers become ill as well. Much of our social solidarity and social distancing is designed to avoid illness ourselves but also to avert these peaks of illness that will make it difficult for us and others in our community to get adequate care.

Despite hopes, wishes, and wild conjecture, there is no current cure, no treatment, or vaccine for Covid-19. As a result, patients can pass away due to many complicating illnesses. The only thing standing in the way of that is self-care and if you’re sick in the hospital the expert care of doctors and hospital equipment like ventilators.

In her correspondence with friends, Ms Cooley has eloquently and succinctly elaborated on the concept of social solidarity, establishing “Five Acts of Social Solidarity” as a way to best define our safe practices at this difficult time. In adapting the concept her hope is to show how the crisis can bring us together and show how our interdependence can be fortifying rather than distancing, an emotional embrace even if we can’t physically embrace each other at this time. What follows is an abridged version of some of her correspondences.

“So, the first act of solidarity is staying at home as much as possible and maintaining social distance to protect the vulnerable who can’t fend off the virus, to protect the elderly, to protect those with serious medical problems and to protect the healthcare workers themselves from burning out.

“Solidarity also means not going to the hospital without serious reasons to do so. Having possible symptoms of the virus does not necessarily mean having to be immediately hospitalized; it means calling your doctor for advice on next steps.

“Solidarity means not overburdening food stores and pharmacies. It means shopping and cooking mindfully.

“Solidarity means using your time at home usefully. It takes discipline to organize one’s time effectively when one is constrained by a crisis to stay inside.

“And solidarity means staying in touch with your families, friends, and colleagues, offering and receiving comfort. And staying aware of and open-hearted toward those you don’t know, too.”

The spirit of Ms Cooley’s advice, while not a deep dive into the fine art of twenty second handwashing, provides a guide to avoid the kind of isolation and alienation that seems so difficult to avoid in our separation.

She adds that Italy’s flash-mob singing events – everyone opening their windows and singing together – have been remarkably moving and helpful as well. If your voice is strong and you have a few friends nearby, you might try that as well.

Her last piece of advice? “I would urge not getting into heated discussions about politics right now. Speaking for myself,” she notes, “I cannot afford the dissipation of energy that political rage causes I feel the important thing to do RIGHT NOW is focusing on taking care of the most vulnerable amongst us – which starts with taking care of yourselves. Because if you don’t, you can’t help anyone else.”


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