An Epidemic of Empathy: How a Global Crisis Can Push Humanity Forward.
Updated: Mar 20, 2020
It’s Monday morning, and I’m writing this from my kitchen table. Clean surfaces, sanitized hands surround me, and I’m barefoot. Not my regular Monday morning routine.
Every minute it seems that my phone buzzes with news about COVID-19, and it’s spread across the globe. With every passing second, an institution shuts down:
It’s safe to say that we have stepped into the pages of history and are living in memorable times. Decades from now, students will learn about these events in the pages of history books. They’ll learn what happened and how we responded.
Humans are designed to live in a community. We crave shared experiences and love discovering new worlds through a collective lens. Now it seems our innate human desire to connect is limited for the good of the world. It’s hard to wrap our heads around the concept of social distancing.
It’s even harder to wrap our heads around the rapid cancellation of events we hold dear. We have no choice, and we must get used to this temporary reality that is changing how we work and share life.
I planned to write a blog this month about “5 Essential Tools to Grow Your Small Business.” But, due to this season of uncertainty, it feels more poignant to touch on what we’re all feeling. We are all worried about the impact this has on our global and local economies.
My heart goes out to the small businesses who are creating community in their corner of the world. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. Many of you work, manage, and own business such as these. As small business owners, we can’t help but ask ourselves questions about the future. Questions like:
What happens next?
What does this do to our goals?
What should I do now?
How do I lead my staff in these times?
How will this change our business?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, trust me, I wish I did. These are on loop in my mind as well. Our problem is real. We have an external, invisible threat driving us to collective fear and anxiety. These emotions are normal, but we can’t fail to see the opportunities we have ahead of us.
Here we are in the midst of the unknown, attempting to find something that feels like progress. It’s easy to get lost in the noise on social media. With so many voices adding to the chaos, it’s hard to know whom to listen to:
Toilet Paper Preppers
Doubter’s & Dissenters
Even during the chaos, we have a chance to build on past human innovations to bring a new world into existence. So, what if the best thing to do in this time of “social distancing” is to view it as a natural course correction? We have an opportunity to reframe our situation for good. If done right, we can usher in a new wave of inspiration and innovation like the world has ever seen!
The first step in creating a new world starts by embracing two ideas:
Empathy and Connection.
I’ll be the first to tell you from personal experience, that empathy doesn’t come easy. I can express sympathy all day long because sympathy doesn’t cost me a thing. You may be asking, what’s the difference between empathy v. sympathy?
Author Brené Brown describes it as:
“Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
She goes on to explain that people who express empathy share four common behaviors:
Staying Out of Judgement
Recognizing Emotion In Others
Communicating within those Emotions
To connect with someone, you must relate to their emotions by drawing on emotions from your past. It’s not comfortable to express empathy. That’s because we want to make things better when all that’s necessary is to be present in the pain. We must journey to the depths of dark emotions in ourselves to connect with others who are going through it now.
A response can rarely make something better. What makes something better is a connection. Empathy is the simple acknowledgment that “You’re not alone in this. I’ve been there before.” What’s unique about our current situation is that nobody has been here before, so we are all in this together.
Let me tell you this- You are not alone in this. We are here in this now, together.
When you express empathy, it can’t help but lead to connection, and the connection is what will drive us forward. In this time of chaos, anxiety, and fear, empathy is the lifeline that keeps us afloat. We’re opening a new chapter on what it means to be empathetic, innovative, and supportive.
In the mass hysteria these last few days, it’s impossible not to worry about the future of our world. When you look at how the COVID-19 virus has unfolded, we’re must reconcile with how vulnerable we all are. To make it personal, I felt a sense of disbelief first. I believed this was a fad and was going to pass like all fads before. While the virus remained in Wuhan, it felt far away. Then when it spread to Italy, I thought about my time in Italy and my friends traveling there soon, that would suck. Next, it enters Washington State, woof. Good thing I live in Kentucky.
Then it came to Kentucky. It became real.
This thing was for real. We made arrangements and touched base with the people in our lives about how life was going to be in the next few weeks. Now we continue to move into the unknown, day by day, separated but together.
So what should we do in times like these? When I sat down to think about it, three simple steps came to mind that I’m going to use to get through this time.
Know the facts about our situation. Do your due diligence around guidelines as a small business owner. If you can work remotely, install that protocol now. If you are in the service business, know the rules, and communicate clearly to your staff and customers.
Know your plan for work and life. Create a schedule and keep to that routine. It will be easy to get lost in the unknown, so make a schedule for work, exercise, and play. Going outside isn’t canceled. Don’t waste away at home watching The Office for the tenth time.
Know where you want to be after this is over. This season will pass. And when it does, how do you wish you would’ve spent your time? Take this as an opportunity to plan for your future self and take the steps now to become that person.
Show empathy. Remember, empathy drives connection. Now is not the time to be dismissive of other perspectives. If your spouse deals with anxiety, listen to them. If your employees stress about their future, comfort them. If your prepper uncle is telling you to come to his compound, let him down easy.
Show support. Small businesses need our help. It is imperative to spend your money these next few weeks at your favorite small businesses. Many spots are take out only, take advantage of this. Buy gift cards, shop online, make donations, we need to support our small businesses in these times.
Show kindness. This is tough on everyone, be kind to one another.
Grow creatively. For most industries, this will be a time of rest and introspection, not growth. That seems to be the stark reality of the times. Rather than get discouraged, use this as a time to invest in your business and yourself. We all have internal projects we mean to get done but get placed on the back burner. Now’s the time to get those done. If you have some new initiatives you want to get started, this is the time to make those dreams a reality! Invest in yourself and your business creatively and encourage your staff to do the same.
Grow emotionally. Now’s the time to practice wellness. Don’t stop taking care of yourself. Be sure to get plenty of sleep (not too much), practice mindfulness, go on a walk, do some online yoga, pet your dog. Whatever brings you life, be sure to incorporate that into your day-to-day.
Grow together. What if, in our time of mass isolation, we can grow closer to each other? It’s time for us to practice intentional communication:
Call your friends
Stay connected to a community (Zoom, Slack, Google)
Write letters to retirement homes & prisons (they’ve halted visitors)
We’re all in this together, so we have to watch out for each other.
I wish I could tell you what it looks like on the other side of this, but I can’t. There’s not a human alive today who has lived through something as disruptive as this. I can tell you that we have only two options and they’re quite simple.
We can step backward, or we can go forward. There’s no in-between. We can fall victim to our anxieties and lose touch of reality, OR we do what humans do best and innovate.
I know we will choose the latter. The only way to grow is to come together in new ways to push the human story forward. We can either shrink in fear or start working together to create a better, brighter tomorrow.
Remember to show empathy and pursue connection. We’ll get through this together if we do these three things:
Know (the facts, the plan, the vision)
Show (empathy, support, and kindness)
Grow (creatively, emotionally, and together)
Stay safe out there and remember to wash your hands.