Communal Balance as an Antidote for our Collective Grief

by Dr. Sharyn Salsberg Ezrin, Psychologist

First published in Psychology Ontario (the newsletter of the Ontario Psychological Association) Vol. 33, No. 3, Fall 2001, p. 10


The incomprehensible events and the tragic aftershocks of September 11 may lead to an unexpected human dividend across North America. It is being reflected in the transformation of personal- and work-life balance as a cultural value to the search for a new communal balance. While the 1990's saw the rise of a new appreciation for balance between work and personal life, the initial attempt to come to grips with the trauma of our grief has broadened attention on how much human beings depend on each other and the wider community. I sense that this will start to be translated in the months ahead into looking for personal fulfillment in the community outside of our self-centred endeavours. It is a trend we should all welcome.

For many baby boomers, the first generation born after our last great communal tragedy, World War II, personal fulfillment has been a direct function of job related achievement. This cultural value slowly shifted in the 70's and 80's as family structures changed and women's advancement brought new issues to the fore. By the late 1980's, personal life balance as defined by an equilibrium between work and family responsibilities was an accepted mainstream cultural goal. The unparalleled decade of prosperity to the 1990's fuelled personal experimentation with a focus on extreme and unique adventure and self-centred lifestyle choices.

The recent collapse of the high-tech boom and recessionary economic pressures had already been contributing to a new malaise affecting job satisfaction and work-related status. The terror attacks have accelerated our loss of a sense of personal well-being as well as safety. These emotions have led us to seek out the comfort of the broader society who share similar values.

What we have been experiencing is a return to more deliberate participation in communal activities which bring solace in this time of uncertainty. By seeking out others in our community we seem to be putting more time and effort into building bonds of support and good will as our insurance for the future. I believe it reflects a deep-seated yearning to find meaning in a suddenly illogical and chaotic world.

Over the next year, the focus will remain on public displays of grieving. People struggling to come to terms with a crisis of global proportions will likely find calm and reassurance at the outpouring of emotions in memorials, special inter-faith services, benefit concerts, and public event tributes.

I expect that corporate leaders will want to ensure they can bring their organizations back to normalcy through means of calming people's distress. The print and televised public advertisements of condolence and concern, on behalf of their corporations are a good starting point. However, for the lingering experiences of distress, it is important for leaders to demonstrate through their actions that this is a changed world. How will the values of comfort and concern for others be kept front and centre? Members of corporate executive teams will likely use their influence to reach out and inquire about how their people are doing. Employees may need further support from their leaders, beyond an informal approach.

Here are suggestions of what could be established to sustain an atmosphere of communal support and balance within workplaces for the immediate period ahead:

  1. Create safety nets for co-workers, including trained professionals, who will track people's reactions to unfolding events and will follow-up with care and consideration over an extended time period;
  2. Establish special projects as outlets for communal involvement among co-workers to build greater bonds of understanding and shared values of community; and
  3. Recognize activities demonstrating corporate communal commitment, whether within the employee community or within the community of employee families.

Such initiatives will continue to reinforce corporate values centred on communal interpersonal concern and support in the years to come.

First published in Psychology Ontario (the newsletter of the Ontario Psychological Association) Vol. 33, No. 3, Fall 2001, p. 10

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