Compassion in a Crisis

Search out our common threads of humanity and grasp on to them

By Myers Reece

The language of coronavirus inherently suggests community fracturing: the addition of “social distancing” into our daily lexicon, requests to “stay at home,” endless announcements about closures and cancellations. Yet, our lives persist, and the essential spirit of community endures. It can be nearly unrecognizable, obscured by quiet streets and the safe spaces that separate us, but it’s there nonetheless.

Numerous stories serve as proof: children sending letters to senior citizens isolated in nursing homes; restaurants banding together to provide meals for food banks; residents ignoring their own financial crunch to send money to nonprofits and people in need; neighbors consistently finding creative ways to help neighbors; online movements coalescing to support local businesses; streams of compassion rising above locked doors.

To say we are a resilient people almost misses the point, because it’s not hardiness that best defines our shared humanity, but rather our fundamental capacity to care for others. Not only do we need that right now; we need to actively encourage and praise it.

All of which means we must carefully watch what we do and say. In times of crisis, especially in the internet age, there’s a temptation to retreat to our own corners and cast aspersions into the social media ether. In ugly cases across the country, conspiratorial xenophobia has poisoned the public dialogue.

Words, even throwaway Facebook posts, have ripple effects far beyond hurt feelings. People who spread misinformation or sow confusion risk encouraging reckless actions that can endanger others and exacerbate the crisis, even spread the disease. We all have a duty as citizens, no matter our personal views, to abide by government directives and recommendations, made in the interest of broader public health.

Never has this overused saying been more relevant: We’re all in this together. Negligence and distrust create weak links in the critical chain of coordination. Please listen to the collective conclusions of our knowledgeable health experts and take precautionary measures to heart. Prepare and stock, but don’t be greedy. Consider how indiscriminate hoarding affects those in lower-income brackets who can’t afford to stockpile.

Then, of course, there are the psychological repercussions of our interactions. As hard as it may seem at times, we should all seek levity and joy, promote compassion and otherwise celebrate each other. At a time when imposed restrictions strain our personal choice, we still get to decide what message we offer to the world.

None of this is to suggest we should gloss over the pandemic’s impacts, which range from highly disruptive to tragic. Everyone is affected: our finances, our routines, potentially our health and lives. Like others, my wife and I are struggling to navigate work and bills with lowered income while taking on the second full-time job of being home with our 1- and 3-year-old boys without babysitting or grandparent help. Many people are obviously confronting far harsher realities.

Rather, this is a plea to search out our common threads of humanity and grasp on to them, even from a distance, to offer perspective when it’s hard to come by. The bad is obvious; the good is more difficult to locate but worth finding and sharing. For my wife and me, that means translating our lockdown lifestyle as an opportunity to explore, challenge and strengthen our relationships with our sons.

Be smart, be safe and be kind, whether that’s from six feet or 6,000 miles apart. And don’t forget to tell your hunkered-down partners how much you care for them. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so. Take advantage of them.

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