By Cory Phare
Around the country, people are connecting in ways that reimagine how to be social while physically distancing to combat COVID-19.
And thankfully, video calls aren't the only solution. Though technology opens new avenues for communication, it doesn't always bring us together. Now, Denverites are connecting (while staying apart) by going outside and howling at 8 p.m.
“In a time when there’s a tremendous occurrence of loneliness, (howling provides) a sense of unity that goes a long way,” said Harvey Milkman, professor emeritus of psychological sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
The critical role of community – of a pack – can’t be understated in times of stress, he said. The act of social bonding alters brain chemistry by releasing the hormone oxytocin, which results in an improved sense of well-being.
“Howling has a bifurcated purpose – it’s both releasing the tension of isolation and showing appreciation,” Milkman said.
This collective sense of mourning and celebration is one of the foundational elements of what has made the Go Outside and Howl at 8 p.m. Facebook group grow to more than half a million members around the globe since launching March 27, said Denver-based Brice Maiurro, who started the page along with his partner Shelsea Ochoa.
“We think howling has struck a chord because anyone can do it, there’s something wild and Western about it, and it’s a beautiful thing to howl and receive a howl in return,”Maiurro said.
The open-ended ended nature of what to howl for affords personal meaning. It speaks to a deeper need for connection, one that our survival is built upon – and has drawn so many to build community in otherwise-unlikely places, such as a Facebook page. “It’s interesting – in some ways before COVID-19, social media and technology were often seen as bane to our existence,” Milkman said. “Now, we see how to turn to them as kind of sanctuary.”
Maiurro reinforced this sentiment, hoping “it’s one of the things people remember as a light during what for many is a dark time.”
That’s because in the short period of a few weeks, the group has evolved into a space for connection and storytelling. Health care workers share their shift stories from the front lines of battling a global health crisis; family members mourn the loss of loved ones; and friends and co-workers even connect virtually for a happy hour, bridging the divide between the digital and the physical with a joyful noise.
In other words: Ask not for whom the howler howls – they howl for thee.
“We’re social animals,” Milkman said. “Love and belonging is basic to human survival. We’re built to be connected."
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