Opinion: Here's what Elmo's innocent question says about us

The astonishing wave of engagement it generated is nothing we, or Sesame Street’s Mr. Snuffleupagus, should sneeze at.

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A heartening incident recently unfolded — a thread of humanity and connectivity reverberated when the beloved character Elmo from the popular children’s television show Sesame Street posed the innocuous question: “How is everybody doing?”

The internet was ablaze! While I’m more of a Looney Tunes and Bugs Bunny loyalist, I give my kudos to Sesame Street for its enduring relevancy, educational legacy and ability to maintain a firm, albeit furry, puppet grip on the cultural zeitgeist.

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The resonance of Elmo’s question surpassed all expectations, shedding light on the profound impact a simple inquiry could make. Sesame Street’s recent act of creativity and inspiration to post this kind-hearted inquiry on X, the Twitter of yesteryear, surprised even producers, catching Elmo off guard with the overwhelming influx of responses and poignant messages.

I could almost hear another one of Sesame’s distinctive characters, The Count, the Muppet vampire with a deep voice and panache for numbers, exclaiming: “And now, my dear friends, let us count to thousands together. Ah, one thousand, two thousand.”

The New York Times reported Elmo’s status check had received more than 9,000 responses by Tuesday, the day after the post went up. And the tenor of responses seemed to speak volumes about our collective well-being, suggesting that, as a whole, we are, in fact, not doing so well and very much not OK.

For a nanosecond, there was this powerful feeling of unity and commiseration. I, too, felt less alone in my heightened anxiety levels and bouts of paralyzing depression, grappling like so many with personal angsts and the weight of concern over global events and uncertainties.

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The public’s visceral reaction to Elmo’s innocently phrased question raised even more worries about where we stand as a society. Some pessimistically criticized this opportunity and saw it as nothing more than a cheap and cheesy ploy to grab our attention and another testament to the alluring power of social media. Still, the astonishing wave of engagement it generated is nothing we or Sesame Street’s Mr. Snuffleupagus should sneeze at.

The responses received have unintentionally opened the floodgates, revealing, unfortunately but not shockingly, a unified landscape marred by loneliness, sorrow, grief, relationship struggles, financial distress, fear and despair, to name a few.

If there’s anything positive to glean from Elmo’s innocent question, it helped open a dialogue about our shared struggles, showcasing our common humanity rather than our differences. It serves as a reminder that kindness and empathy, even when it’s on a social media platform, can still have the potential to bring us together.

This Elmo stunt also alerted us that we can and should do better and adeptly navigate through these volatile times with more understanding and patience for one another.

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We tend to conceal our true feelings behind bravado and façade, hesitating to express anything beyond a superficial “fine” or “all right” when asked, “How are you doing?” Perhaps Bugs Bunny, with his insightful “Eh, what’s up, Doc?” said it best and was ahead of his time, skilfully knowing how to approach his friends and foes with this disarmingly catchphrase.

The pandemic has taught us a lot, and we continue to learn from it, especially that regular check-ins can be a lifeline for people and have a profound impact, nurturing a compassionate and positive environment more conducive to open and genuine communication.

Elmo’s curiosity, gauging our current mental and emotional state, undeniably struck a chord. What followed was an outpouring of words of support from various sources, all singing the praises and weighing in with gratitude for Elmo.

Maybe it’s my inherent childish sense of wonder, but would it not be really extraordinary if these endeavours in kindness and consideration surpassed social media and hype and found permanent residency beyond the enchanting world of Sesame Street?

Wendy Reichental worked as an administrative coordinator at McGill University. She is now retired and living in Dollard-des-Ormeaux.

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