The Dean's Corner: The 3 “H”s of Summer – Health, Happiness and Healing

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In this edition of the Dean's Corner, Carola Weil reflects on her time in Montreal as Dean of Continuing Studies, while looking towards the future and fostering a healthier, more inclusive space for the McGill community.

July 1st marked not only a holiday that is observed as Canada Day, but also my third anniversary in Canada, in Montreal and at McGill University. I arrived on the shores of the St. Lawrence River in midst of another heatwave and to the sounds of the Montreal Jazz Festival. This was not my first visit to the city, but one that stayed in my memory with exceptional clarity. Here I was, well past my first half century of life, and starting a brand-new adventure in a new location, not knowing a single person. That day I felt an excitement and a positive energy to explore opportunities yet unknown, to find my place somewhere in this city and institution. Yes, I was leaving behind family and friends, my house and beloved garden, familiar walks, and neighbourhoods. But that hot summer day, I could hear music and see a vibrant diverse community buzzing around me. What better place to be?!

So here we are — three years later, once again facing un unknown future as we prepare for life and work post-pandemic. For the School of Continuing Studies community this is an opportunity to reflect on how we can move forward together to continue to build a better future for all. After more than a year of working and studying remotely — in many cases very effectively— why should we disrupt our lives again and give up the relative greater efficiency?

There are several reasons for doing so. First, for the health of our community. At the end of the day, while we can work efficiently at a distance, we have not yet designed our community to be as effective remotely. I believe that our community will be healthier, stronger, and more creative when we are able to come together in person. This is based not only on my own personal preference for collaborative groups, but also validated by social science. Social Psychologist Leon Festinger already discovered in the 1950s that proximity (physical closeness) is an important factor in our ability to build group relationships (Festinger, L. et al, Social Pressures In Informal Groups, New York: Harper. 1950) Furthermore, Scott Page noted in his work on the “Diversity Bonus” that “the best teams outperform the best individuals on complex tasks.”  Thus, we as a group are more than simply the “sum of its parts.”  The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc with our physical, mental, and emotional health. We are working harder and longer than ever before. Working or studying on campus is not by definition more or less stressful than doing so remotely. However, commuting and walking to meetings does build in some necessary breaks that we might need to refresh and reflect on the day.

Furthermore, working and learning together might contribute to our individual and collective happiness. The 2021 World Happiness Report – YES, there is such a report, produced by a network of scholars and practitioners around Columbia University— as well as Stats Canada- suggest a high correlation between various aspects of the pandemic and an overall reduction in life satisfaction, an umbrella term referring to a bundle of experiences of “health, social connections, mobility, employment and incomes.” There are of course many reasons why that might be the case, but the high degrees of socio-economic isolation and uncertainty certainly figure strongly. I like to think of the School of Continuing Studies as one important source of happiness. How so? Very few of us, if anyone, is at McGill School of Continuing Studies purely for economic reasons. We joined this institution out of a sense of passion and purpose. And while every individual might have a different set of motivations or understanding driving their sense of purpose, it is likely that being part of a caring and committed community is an important factor and, by extension, contributes to our perceived sense of happiness.  

Lastly, returning to campus for me is an opportunity to help heal some of the wounds that have opened during the past two years. Long before the pandemic, many of our fellow humans were suffering not only from disease but also from structural violence, inequity, and racism. COVID-19 compounded this suffering but also opened the door to questioning how we live and have lived and died in the past. More than ever we need increased collective or rather connective action, articulated by scholars such as Yochai Benkler, and Lance Bennett and Alexandra Segerberg. From that perspective, organizations — like our School of Continuing Studies— can (and should) foster collaborative information and resource sharing as well as collaborative engagement with and by publics. Social media allows us to do some of that. However, coming together in our offices and classrooms will allow for a more intensive connection and a common base from which to reflect, to learn and to plan for a better future.  

For me July is now a month of new beginnings and a time to think about the 3 “H”s  — health, happiness, and healing — that can lead to better humanity and better outcomes across all walks of my life. I invite you to reflect on your own 3 “H’s and enjoy the summer! 

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