Reflections, Writing Archive

The Importance of Showing Empathy During Collective Uncertainty & Grief

It is without a doubt that all of us are experiencing collective trauma stemming from this pandemic.  Certainly, those who have lost loved ones from this virus are carrying a heavy burden of emotional grief, which many of us pray we would never know what it is like to experience.  But even for those of us who haven’t lost loved ones or been personally afflicted by this virus, we are still experiencing collective trauma because of this pandemic which continues to cause uncertainty about how we earn a living, how we educate our children, or when we can plan our future.

Yes, like many of you, I am concerned about the future when it comes to this pandemic as cases are rapidly increasing across the world, especially in North America as we approach winter. But I am also gravely concerned about how much longer the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of my friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens can be sustained.  Like you, I have seen the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of friends, family, and neighbors, begin to degrade as this year drags on as we continue to face grief, chaos, and uncertainty collectively as a society.

On a systematic level,  it will take our community and political leaders taking actions to address what we are facing in regard not only the pandemic, but also the systemic issues of poverty, racism, and income inequality which are continuing to go unaddressed in our world, especially in the United States. There also has to be an effort from all of us to have conversations with one another in our homes, in our workplaces, and in our faith communities about ways we can as a society work to overcome the challenges we are facing as neighbors and citizens. And we also need to recognize that we are all experiencing grief individually and collectively and to allow ourselves permission to recognize that it’s okay to acknowledge that we are feeling tired, burned out, and overwhelmed.

But beyond all that, we must learn to show kindness and empathy towards one another, recognizing that all of us are experiencing in these challenging times uncertainty and grief.  Empathy is something that seems to be missing in our current society, especially empathy towards people who don’t think or look the same way we do.  However, if you look hard enough, you still might be able to see it.  And when we are able to show empathy through listening, helping in small ways, and acknowledging that we aren’t the only ones having a rough year, we can make a profound impact not only in the lives of others but also in ourselves.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer,” writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Like you, I feel as if I have witnessed this year some of the ugliest images of divisiveness and helplessness in my life.  But I also have witnessed some of the most precious moments of empathy, and the latter is what sustains me. In this past year, I have seen the smiles on patients recovered from COVID as they leave my hospital feeling as if they have been given a second chance in life. I have witnessed people in my small town come together to hand out meals, donate masks, and volunteer to check in on those whose health conditions prevent them from being in public.  I have seen people from college students in their 20s to elderly people in their mid-80s from all different backgrounds, find the courage to stand in solidarity and share their voice in a collective effort to bring about social change.

I am not too sure what else this year has in store for us as a country and as a world.  And certainly, there are monumental challenges for us to overcome in the months and years ahead which will take an enormous effort from all of us as a society to address.

But one thing I do see during uncertainty and chaos is empathy being offered through individuals’ simple acts to show compassion and care for others.  And while these acts of empathy may be small and usually go unnoticed, it fosters a sense in me that despite the burden we all carry and the continued challenges to come, there are still people who care; this is what gives me hope.