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Communication during COVID: Why spreading hope matters, and 4 ways how

Sep 23, 2021
Ela Robles

“We need to show people not just the problem, but the solution. The darker the situation, the more people need hope,” says human rights strategist and Hope-Based Communications founder Thomas Coombes.

The COVID pandemic isn’t just a health crisis. The longer we are in lockdown, the more exhausted we collectively are. While media workers, advocacy groups, and community organizers work to spread important information about COVID and current events, people are tired of and perhaps even desensitized to the daily barrage of bad news.

In a two-part episode of the “Give a Hoot” podcast, communication firm WiseOwl asks Coombes what role communication plays in these times. Communicating effectively during a pandemic, Coombes says, requires an element many overlook: hope.

Bring the conversation towards solutions

We often think that pointing out each other’s inhumanity will drive people toward positive action. This is common both in communications work and in our own lives, shares Coombes. Our conversations gravitate toward what missteps others took and why we shouldn’t emulate that. 

But Coombes points to research that may be surprising: Focusing too much on the negative can actually have the opposite effect of normalizing the thing we want to avoid. If we don’t present people with alternatives, the message we’re sending is that the problem is inescapable.

“Are you telling your own story, or are you just responding to other people’s story?” Coombes asks in part 1 of the podcast. “[Spreading hope] is not about saying what’s popular, it’s about making popular what needs to be said.”

To create change, people need to hear alternatives. “People know bad things are happening, but what people need to know from communicators is how does change help? How can they be a part of it?”

Build empathy to spark change

A powerful example of using hope-based communication in the time of COVID is how New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s message to the country has been one of unity and empathy. Almost all of her speeches end with “Be strong, be kind.” 

Acknowledging and being one with people in their moments of grief in this pandemic builds a community that wants caring about others to be the norm.

Hope is not toxic positivity

It’s important to note that spreading hope is not the same thing as toxic positivity—a behavior in which people brush aside bad news and insist on having a positive mindset. In part 2 of the podcast, Coombes says hope requires us to acknowledge pain. 

Where toxic positivity brushes despair under the carpet, hope embraces it as a part of the journey. Coombes says, “Hope is something that you come to by dealing with sadness and anger. You come out the other end with hope.”

Hope is less about making people feel good in the moment, and more about helping them believe that tomorrow will be better because we can start today.

Create a ‘moment for healing’

“I talk about hope, but we’re also going to need at some point, a moment of healing,” Coombes says. Understandably, Filipinos are feeling tired and angry of their situation, and recovery takes time. To hold us over until we get there, we need more stories of things going right.

The community pantry movement in April 2021 showed Filipinos everywhere that even in difficult times, hope can shine through. This act of kindness resonated with the rest of the country, inspiring hundreds of community pantries to pop up in various locations. 

Stories of people pulling together and caring for each other can build sturdy foundations of hope and healing. As Coombes reminds us, “At the end of the day, we’re all human.” If one small act of kindness can light a small spark of hope, magnify it so the whole world can feel it. 


Give a Hoot is a podcast for social change brought to you by WiseOwl and PumaPodcast. Listen to Give a Hoot on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen.

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