Over the past few months, many of us have been pushed to our limits. We’ve been faced with worries, stress, and questions about the looming future on a daily basis, and that doesn’t come without a cost. Many of us have been living in an extended survival mode; to help serve us better in difficult times, our minds and bodies come up with coping mechanisms to help protect us. When we feel threatened, we tend to let go of anything that feels unessential. The more stressed we are, the more things we let go, and empathy for others tends to be one of the first things to fall. It makes sense that we can’t always consider everyone else when we’re worried about our own safety, but as we start to realize that this will be an extended state, we have to make adjustments to our perspectives. The world will continue to be scary and stressful, at least for a little while, and we owe it to ourselves and each other to learn how to make the most of the world as it is.
Empathy, patience and compassion may not be the easiest traits to harness right now, but it’s important for us to start building a space for them in our daily lives. I believe that generosity begets generosity, patience begets patience, and kindness begets kindness. If we start inviting these energies into our lives, they can provide us with so much relief. This has been a trying time for all of us. Every one of us is dealing with some level of change, loss, and difficulty; how we treat each other right now can make all the difference in the world.
Being stuck in a long grocery line, experiencing slow service times, or having to work under the pressure of a pandemic can rob us of our capacity for grace and kindness but we have to remember that this will not be our forever. Eventually we will be able to look back and see either a time of high tensions and negative emotions, or one of warmth and community.
Kindness is more than simply a personality trait; more often than not it is a practice, a choice we have to make over and over again. Devoting intentionality towards kindness doesn’t just benefit our neighbors, it benefits us as well. Sometimes we underestimate the power of altruism, how good we feel when we know we’ve made someone else’s day better instead of worse. Challenging ourselves on our preconceptions, showing ourselves we have so much to gain from a little extra effort, can be a great goal to work towards during quarantine. After all, when you start holding more empathy for others, you start holding more empathy for yourself as well. Usually when we are directing negativity outward it’s because there’s negativity within. Many of us may feel disappointed in ourselves right now. We might feel like we aren’t getting as much done as we should, or as much as others seem to be doing— that lack of kindness to ourselves impacts everything we touch. Taking the time every day to acknowledge that we are all doing their best can be the first step toward a healthier relationship with ourselves and each other.
Empathy truly is a superpower. It can allow us to strengthen every connection in our lives and expand our perspective beyond our own experience. It can help us to slow down and turn our focus towards building others up instead of tearing them down. Practicing empathy for each other during a stressful time like the one we find ourselves in may not always be easy, but it’s one of the best things we can do to start creating the world we want to live in.