The first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic and response was catastrophic for many of us—our health, jobs, and emotional well-being were at constant risk.
But something else happened. The crisis exposed fault lines between many of our friends and families.
Last month we set out to find out just how deep those divisions became. We also wanted to learn more about how people were affected in general by the pandemic.
Over the course of one week we conducted an informal survey; many of the nearly 100 respondents came from our email subscriber list.
Here’s what we learned:
More than half of respondents reported that the last three months have created a rift between them and friends and family. An incredible 75 percent said they fear that someone they know was beginning to adopt far-right extremist thinking.
Our experience indicated this could happen. Large-scale uncertainty and major disruptions to the status quo are a breeding ground for extremism.
It’s important to note that while this survey did not have a fully-representative sample, it’s a useful starting point for important conversations about how we respond to crises, both individually and collectively.
If you need any help navigating such sensitive conversations with your family and friends, please check out our guide, How to Fight Fake News During COVID-19.
Meanwhile, here are additional highlights of our survey:
These are perhaps the most telling responses. People need one another during times of enhanced stress. Unfortunately, many of us found that some of our friends and family became the very source of that stress.
In our guide to combating fake news, we recommend taking an empathy-first approach. People need to feel like they are being heard. So it’s important to validate their perspective—even if you disagree with it. This approach might help make the person more open to hearing another point of view.
You can remind them to focus on all the things we still have, and not just what may have been lost. Finally, help others regain their control over uncertainty by focusing on ways they can help.
As we have previously explored in our research, uncertainty and disruptions to the status quo can make people adopt extremist ideology. This is when people become most susceptible to the type of polarizing thinking that can lead to dramatic changes in behavior and could even include violence.
People who are self-radicalizing may also be self-isolating. Robert Örell, program director of ExitUSA, says radicalized individuals often isolate themselves from society, family, and friends.
“Our approach is to focus on building up those family bonds,” he says. “We must focus on what is healthy, what is working, what is good.” (You can read more on our family support here.)
If you suspect someone you know is at risk, please contact us. You are not alone and we can help.