COVID-19: Empathy during a time of crisis

As I mentioned the other day, I’m writing this week’s content from another country. I have many friends here—both locals and ex-pats from the States, Canada, and Great Britain—who call this place home, like me.   

Needless to say, this is the first time I’m seeing many of them in a long while. (We made it a point to visit here at the same time.) 

And after our post-travel quarantine periods, I was thrilled to spend much-anticipated time with each of them. I’m also grateful for the expanded perspective on the pandemic that these relationships have afforded me.  

With that said, I hope you’ll indulge me again today, as I take a moment to share some of the insight I’ve gained during this time in my own personal paradise…  

Seeing through a different lens  

As with anywhere else, there’s vaccine hesitancy in the local population here. Granted, they’ve been spared the brunt of this pandemic thus far—it is a country that lives its life primarily outdoors with gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) tropical breezes. (Since its initial outbreak [of about 13 cases with just one death], this island remained COVID-free up until earlier this year.)  

But I’m not here to report on the state of COVID today. If anything, I’ve had to learn how to discuss it without offending anyone in the process. What I find works the best is asking one simple and sincere question: “How has your COVID experience been?” 

Doing this has really opened my eyes. Because so much of what I write and how I experience life comes through the lens of where I live and what I do for a living. (The same can be said for most of us.)   

But interest in other people’s “lenses” is precisely what I think is lacking in the noisy, boisterous conversations that surround us in America.   

More often than not, we don’t want to know what others have been through—we simply want to find someone who has had a similar experience to our own. Someone to commiserate with. Someone to say, “I told you so” to.   

The problem is, we don’t really want to listen. It’s like that guest at the cocktail party (what are those again?!) who prattles on about themselves and doesn’t let the other person speak.  

We’ve all met them—or have been them at one time or another. But I’ve been learning a lot in my conscious efforts to reject these kinds of myopic interactions in favor of truly listening to the many different experiences out there.  

Different stories, common threads 

Seeing the world from a viewpoint outside of your own is the single straightest path toward true empathy—something we could all benefit from having more of these days.  

So I’m not going to pinpoint locales. I’m not going to name names. I simply want to relate stories. 

Some thrive in this “new normal,” while others feel lost. Especially those who have lost loved ones. In fact, one friend’s 76-year-old mother had just been taken off a ventilator five days prior to their arrival here. Meanwhile, his brother and sister-in-law recently contracted COVID because they were delaying their shots until this month, so as to be better prepared for the fall months soon to come. 

Others related that they didn’t know what they were being injected with and were fearful of the vaccines. (I won’t judge that fear, or waste time pointing fingers. I would much rather try to understand it better. And I encourage you to do the same.) 

One person who has a close relationship with their parents broke down and cried because it was months before they were able to see them legally. Major life events such as milestone birthdays, engagements, births of children could only be commemorated through a camera’s lens.   

Others explained how they enjoyed the isolation and silence in the beginning, but are now feeling desperate and lonely.  

Indeed, loneliness, fear, frustration, and anger are all common emotions I heard a lot. 

To that end, I’d love to hear about your COVID experience, too. How have you been weathering this storm? Your answer genuinely matters to me, and I hope you’ll consider sharing it on Facebook or Instagram—or e-mail me at [email protected]