19 People around the World Share How They Prepare for a Post-COVID-19 World
impactmania always turned to people who drive cultural, social, and economic impact since being founded in 2015. We need their inspiration now more than ever, which is why we are asking 19 impact-makers how they are preparing for the new realities of a post-COVID-19 world.
Vivian Song is an independent researcher and producer who lives between New York and Beijing. With a background in education and urban sociology, Vivian has been weaving multiple networks within China and beyond since 2009. Her work focuses on forming cross-sector and local-global collaborations from deep understandings of “diversity in culture but unity in nature”. She is currently learning about regenerative design, system thinking, Buddhist economy, and is working on facilitating dialogues among players in agriculture, food systems, and education for the next-gen farmers.
Paksy Plackis-Cheng in Berlin, Germany caught up with Vivian Song in New York City, USA over WhatsApp on March 31, 2020.
What is your advice for people to prepare themselves for post-COVID?
Right now, we have this unique opportunity to do some personal healing. This is important to do before we are ready to go out and create something new. We need to face and confront our fears.
I found that maintaining a physical routine is helpful. Right now, our body is not activated enough since we mostly stay indoors. We are also spending a lot of time reading the news and being aware of the rise of confirmed cases. This brings us in a highly anxious mental status and it could spin-off quite far. I think maintaining physical routine will help anchor us back to reality and to the “now.”
What physical exercises do you do that helps keep you anchored?
I do yoga (for at least 35 minutes a day), the 8 brocade, and Qigong, a simple daily practice to generate heat within the body. I only started to look into Qigong exercises more seriously when I was in lockdown in China. There’s a lot of traditional Chinese medicine knowledge at this moment, on what to eat, when to sleep, and what health practices to keep. These talks seem incredibly comforting in the age of fear.
Give me an example of how you confront fear.
I think we should try to quiet down the story-making mind and trust our body to make decisions sometimes.
Last Sunday, early morning onwards, people from China started to send me messages saying how terrible the situation is in NYC, where I am. I don’t really follow the news, so I wasn’t aware how fast the situation was developing around me. These overwhelming messages from family and friends got me into this state of doubt and fear. I was told the coming weeks that the spread of the virus would be more serious, I’d better store enough food, and not to go out. And then, I realized I didn’t have enough food at home. When I checked the Amazon app, there were no delivery time slots available. This again increased my fear—if I go out, I might catch the virus. If I don’t go, I may starve. Then, even if I go out, my local shops may be closed or things may be out of stock… I was in limbo. I left my body to make decisions, not my brain.
And before I realized it, I dressed up to leave the house. It was a strange, but very liberating experience to quiet the worrying, story-making mind.
Once out, I found a completely different reality than the stories I made up in my mind: the stores were open, fully stocked, and the lovely cashier told me they would remain open. People were social distancing, while being friendly to each other.
Funny thing was that as soon as I got home from grocery shopping, the Amazon app showed me immediately available delivery slots again… It was like a joke was played on me. I had to confront my fear in order to move on with my life.
When we spoke earlier, you mentioned that we can’t just rely on the government.
Yes, I think what we have now is the beginning of a more heightened VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) age, so there will be more unpredictability, more chaos, and the only way to deal with it is to boost the “immune system” of our community, as well as our own body. We have to learn to be resilient, bounce back when we are hit and in shock, and adapt quickly. The flexibility of adapting is not only what the government needs to prepare for, but that is also just one layer…We also need to prepare layers like social organizations, communities, families and ourselves to be resilient.
The key to resilience is how much you are allowing changes to happen. If you are not willing to change or adapt, you will inevitably be hit harder when a crisis comes. Let go of stories that don’t serve anymore, embrace the change, and ride the wave. This again, applies to not only personal but also collective, politics, and economy.
How is this crisis changing you?
The first thing that comes to mind is allowing change and keeping an open identity. The field is constantly shifting. The real ability is to mold yourself and find opportunities to contribute to the system.
I had a rough flight back to NYC. A passenger next to me kept coughing during the flight. So there’s a moment I thought I must be infected. As I was monitoring my temperature, I did a mental exercise: imagine if I do have the virus, what do I do? I felt, first I needed to accept its existence within my body. I was trying to find a way to make peace with it. I was almost in dialogue with the virus in my body, negotiating with it, and having empathy—for its urge for survival too—rather than becoming overly anxious. Then, I educated myself on what to eat to boost my immune system and understand how a healthy gut brings a healthy immune system. All this awareness and insights came from that mental exercise.
What happened in the 14-days quarantine?
I wanted to take the opportunity to experiment and see how I can change myself.
I became a vegetarian when I went through the 14-days quarantine, I didn’t go out, and I was checking my temperature twice a day. I realized that change is possible and not as hard as my brain was telling me through these stories it created.
What will our story be post-COVID?
Our story can be co-created in this crisis. I share one piece of the story. After the virus, we will be looking at development through a different lens. Hopefully, we will be taking the planetary boundaries as the guideline, instead of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). We’ll have to start looking at how we develop, rather than how to grow, which will bring changes to from how we choose our career to what we eat, such as fewer avocados and support a transition from less globalized food supply to more local products.
I’m sure this is an ongoing conversation and when you talk to more people, everybody will hold a piece to the new story. It’ll be patched up like a jigsaw puzzle. I’m curious to see that story unfolding!
impactmania’s past interviews and programs have been featured in international media, a number of universities, US Consulates, the UN, and have been cited by Harvard Business School, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, and Duke University Press. impactmania’s Women of Impact program was awarded the U.S. Embassy Public Diplomacy grant (2019).