In the wake of the Coronavirus, we worry about many things. We worry about our families, our elders, ourselves. We worry about the people we work with. And we worry about the community of listeners who come to us for inspiration.
Our first priority is, of course, to our families and friends. And our second priority is, by association, to each other. Every listener shares our worries. We are, as the saying goes, in this together.
As a result, I can say this with no doubt whatsoever: There has never been a more important moment in the history of your career in Christian radio than this moment right now.
Our communities are anxious and the flames of that angst are being fanned with constant news updates containing little information you can actually use to make yourself safer or healthier (how does knowing that Idris Elba has the virus make me safer or healthier?). People are scared. Every day brings an avalanche of bad news.
What’s the best way for you to serve this audience now? What can you do to make things better?
For Christian broadcasters, it’s not simply about conveying the headlines and reminding people to wash up. It’s about doubling down on why listeners come to us in the first place.
The antidote for anxiety is calm. The antidote for fear is hope. The antidote for bad news is encouragement. The antidote for despair is to be uplifted.
The thing we need to do is to double-down on why listeners come to us in the first place because that’s the benefit – the value – they need now more than ever.
This is from my good friend Tom Asacker, and it sums up our individual and collective dilemmas well:
When the rug has been pulled out from under you, when you experience groundlessness and sudden powerlessness, it can feel devastating. And that’s because you’ve temporarily lost control of your script. You’re floating in uncertainty and the world suddenly stops making sense. You don’t know where you’re heading, or who or what to hold onto.
On the other hand if you believe you know what’s happening around you, especially the near term future and general direction, you feel safe. That’s why you resist change and want your agendas and ideologies to prevail. It gives you the comforting feeling of knowing how things will turn out, assuring you that your script is solid—that you have the knowledge and experience to survive.
It’s really strange. We cling desperately to control, to a delusional certainty about life, while, at the same time, we deny the actual certainty, which is that it’s a temporary trip and that you, and everyone around you, are going to die. And sooner than you think. And that’s the trouble, for as Buddha made clear: “You think you have time. You don’t.”
I find that to be encouraging. The implication is that our story is all about control but in reality that control is an illusion. God has a plan for us and irrespective of our intentions things are likely to work out differently from the way we expect. And facing up to that will help us to live a more stress-free life, even under these trying circumstances.
Tom goes on to describe two life orientations, the “stay alive” one and the “be alive” one. In one case, we are obsessed with control, in the other, we recognize that “control” is illusory:
Stay Alive Orientation
Relentless search for the “best” information, which is changing daily, in an attempt to feel in control. This compulsive desire for certainty causes incessant, unwanted thoughts, exacerbating feelings of confusion, helplessness, fear, and, eventually, irritability and anger.
Anxiety and panic, as our minds spin dreadful stories of personal loss (ourselves talking to ourselves about ourselves). The resulting physical stress weakens our immune systems, which puts us at even greater risk of infection and health complications.
Emotion-fueled, selfish behavior, driven by social cues and fear of the future. And so we start panic buying, hoarding food, profiteering, buying guns, and looking at people as opportunities or problems.
Be Alive Orientation
Calm, conscious, common sense actions. We wash our hands often (for at least 20 seconds), clean and disinfect frequently touched objects, DON’T touch our faces, stay 6 feet away from others, etc.
Curiosity and creativity. We lose ourselves in a new book, program, or project. We learn a new language, sport or skill, and start a journal to deeply explore the patterns in our lives that have been causing us to do things that we don’t want to do.
Care, connection and compassion. We physically distance ourselves from others—staying home when we’re sick, avoiding group gatherings, etc. We take these precautions so as not to infect others, especially vulnerable people, and overwhelm the healthcare system. But… we socially expand ourselves and engage in simple acts of kindness. We empathize with those exhausted workers who are working diligently to bag groceries for harried shoppers and calmly assure frightened patients. We use our phones as phones and call people who are isolated and lonely, especially older people who are unable to play bridge, go to church, take part in a book club, and meet friends for lunch. And we wave to each other, smile, tell jokes, laugh, and, generally, lighten up!
We don’t control how the world works. We only control how we respond to it. So let’s resist our survival orientation and the desire for certainty, and let this time be a reflection of the fullness of our unique spirits. Life becomes more meaningful when we take responsibility for something or someone beyond ourselves, and now is the perfect time to bring that reality to life.
And this from a resident of Wuhan, China who has been isolating since the crisis there was first declared:
We have been at home for more than 40 days now. At first, I vacillated between worried and bored. But then I gradually adapted to our new life of isolation and learned to entertain myself. I wrote in my journal, I sketched pictures, and I learned to make a whole array of pastries, like rose-shaped steamed buns and scallion pancakes with beef.
Although life is a bit more inconvenient than normal, we no longer worry about the day-to-day. Our community leader coordinates with local supermarkets to ensure every household has enough food and supplies. When the coronavirus outbreak first started, our community faced each other with panic and fear; now we are calm, encouraging each other to stay positive through WeChat.
The way you serve your audience now is not only by educating them on how to be safe and where to seek help. It’s by doing what Christian radio has always done: Calming panic, erasing fear, restoring calm, uplifting and encouraging them.
Meanwhile you can do what almost nobody else seems to be doing right now, reminding us that we need each other and depend on each other. Reminding us to care for each other, especially those of us who need the most care. Maybe not in person, but by Facetime or email or Skype or even the old fashioned communication and connection tool called a “phone.”
For every story of the guy on the corner selling a roll of toilet paper for $5 (yes, that happened near my office), there’s a story of the young woman who purchased groceries for the older woman too terrified to leave her car and enter the store.
We all desperately need you now.
Mark Ramsey is president of Mark Ramsey Media, strategic research provider to many Christian music stations including K-LOVE, AIR1, KLTY/Dallas, WPOZ/Orlando, KTIS/Minneapolis, and many others. More information about his services is at http://mrmchristian.com. Sign up for FAITHBRIGHT, his weekly email of smart and actionable ideas for Christian broadcasters here: https://goo.gl/2hJMCG. Reach him at 858-485-6372 or firstname.lastname@example.org.