Don Hensley
Don Hensley
March 25, 2020

To Gather or Not to Gather

Don Hensley
Don Hensley

That is the question. We’re now a few weeks into policy and guidelines that tell us not to gather, and I’m one month away from the birth of my first grandbaby, Ryan.

Given current circumstances, it’s unlikely my wife and I will be allowed to be in the hospital for her birth, and we’re concerned about the risks associated with gathering once they get home.

With no real end in sight, I wonder what Ryan’s world will look like a year from now. Will we all celebrate her first birthday party virtually? Looking five years down the road, will she start her first day of virtual kindergarten? And will she have a virtual college graduation after she completes her online courses?

Some say COVID-19 will create a paradigm shift in society that will forever change the trajectory of Ryan’s education; our temporary need to be separated could result in virtual platforms replacing authentic social interaction. That we will need to invest billions of dollars and thousands of hours into making Ryan’s primary and secondary education virtual, and her post-secondary education online instead of on campus. Some even say our resilience and preparedness strategies serve as the catalyst for a paradigm shift to an education of isolation for Ryan. I have to say I agree, there will be a paradigm shift, but not in the way we’re expecting.

It’s true, our plans to deal with the virus have changed our built-on theories of separation and isolation. And that, in our time of isolation, we must incorporate digital strategies to sustain our economic, political, religious, academic, entertainment and health needs. However, we are social creatures—it’s in our DNA. We are drawn to gather to love, govern, celebrate, mourn, play, worship, learn, heal, entertain, create and work. We’ve built our largest and oldest industries and institutions based on ideas of integration and the value of togetherness, not because it’s commercially viable, but because it’s necessary for us to be healthy human beings.

So with that said, I do not believe ideas of isolation, separation and the supporting virtual strategies will be our new norm, but rather only necessary weapons to defeat this virus. Once COVID-19 is defeated, we’ll put these weapons down and the paradigm shift will not be in virtual technology, but in our capacity to be human.

In this paradigm shift, family and friends will gather on Ryan’s first birthday for a joyous and loud celebration of love. As she grows, Ryan will gather with classmates and teachers in genuine human interactions to debate, discuss, play and learn. In the world I see for Ryan, we have renewed in each of us a joy in being together, a new perspective on empathy and understanding, and new ways to incorporate technology so we meet our challenges and achieve our dreams together.

That’s a paradigm shift (and a birthday party) I’m excited to realize. Where we’re not just together again, but we’re making the most of it like never before.