Compassion in the time of a pandemic

Tuesday, 10 November 2020 00:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

In a time of a global pandemic, where trust is slowly ripped, working is remote, and social cohesion is tragically falling apart, a little empathy and understanding can go a long way to keep people glued in the right direction. Ultimately it is not just about our mental health, it is about mental well-being and not giving up on our promise of humanity to one another – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

  • ‘Many languages in the world but the one that understands another comes right from the heart’

World Mental Health Day fell on 10 October this year under the theme ‘Mental Health for All!’ This article aims to speak on the usefulness of truly understanding one another and being there for someone in this dire time of need. As it is, this is not the year we asked for, there are those who have lost jobs and are waiting to get back to work, those going through job movements, role transitions, and others waiting to reunite with their families. 

In an unprecedented time as the present, the global pandemic and the circumstances that follow demand us to reinvent ourselves, find the light in the dark and adapt ourselves faster to new skills and ways of working. Above all this calls on us to hold ourselves together while ensuring safety and care for our loved ones. 

Mental health in this view includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, and every dimension of our life such as our family life, the work places and other social circles we a part of. 

Understanding one another is key to interconnectedness as we humans don’t live alone. We belong to some form of community where relatedness and understanding bring us closer and make us feel belonged with one another. 

In a truer sense, as coaches or grownups at some point we will all realise that we cannot really understand another person from the same viewpoint as this requires to abandon so many of our own inhibitions such as judgement, perception, inner critics and even accept notions that are not a part of ourselves and inner understanding. 

An authentic human connection is when we do not tire one another but facilitate understanding of each other to share joy and work together towards achieving common goals. With understanding comes our natural inclination to feel at ease and secure, we find comfort and solace in the psychological safety as we are allowed to be our vulnerable selves knowing we have no perfections to project towards one another. Thus psychological safety in this view is allowing one to be comfortable being themselves and at work this propels the idea that staff can bring their whole self to work, for when staff feel more at ease, they perform well, their work relations improve and they become more creative and innovative in what they do. 

Another aspect of it also in skilling ourselves to deal with situations that are beyond normal, helping each one of us to be more emotionally aware of what our emotional triggers are. At the outset all humans beings are torn by hurt, uncertainty, lack of hope or even animosity, and calmed by inner peace, warmth, compassion, care, love and understanding.

Thus it is imperative to look at how we become more compassionate with one another in these times; 

1. Presence – Being truly there for someone 

Far too often it is our undue non-judgmental presence that speaks to another person’s heart. Being available in time of need, being just a call away, a message away really helps. One feels assured that they are not alone and this is in more ways a true blessing. Actual presence is being truly available without judgement or resentment. It is more about opening oneself to the grief, sorrow and endurance that they have not experienced themselves. Yet having the courage and compassion to listen fully. It also requires active and reflective listening skills. 

2. Space to be themselves 

By being there for someone you also create and hold the space allowing people to be themselves. In a globalised world, it really matters to create that space of comfort for all people so people show up their most unique and authentic selves. When people find a space they can fit in naturally, they feel belonged and understood. We need to understand that positive toxicity which actualises the dark side of positive vibes hinting the fact that we need to bear an optimistic state across all situations is not always helpful. One does not always have to show up a positive self if they don’t mean it worse they don’t feel so, it is about being real and realising it’s okay not to be okay on some days. 

3. Trust 

Understanding comes with trust! Sometimes trust takes minutes or it takes years to build. To trust also require courage and accepting differences. The assurance of trust allows us to present our true selves in confidence, our vulnerabilities and what we are composed of. Trust builds with integrity and consistency, the gifts of trust are always enormous, it is the foundation of many long-lasting relationships. 

4. Understanding is never about our perspective 

As we listen or associate with people intently, we realise that mutual understanding is possible when we give a piece of our heart than our minds. When we open ourselves to more differences than similarities, we also open up to more possibilities of understanding people and their needs. And then understanding is not about giving our opinions in a situation, or offering unsolicited advice, worse making the whole dialogue about you and your experiences of the same. It is about understanding a person’s take on the issue or situation and their emotions attached to it. 

5. Listen with empathy 

True empathy fuels connection. According to Brene Brown, American psychologist and researcher, to have real empathy one must connect with their own experience and fragility of a similar situation and this is a true example of giving a bit of yourself to someone. According to her there are four attributes of empathy which are:

5.1 Perspective taking which is willingness and ability to see and feel the world through the eyes of another. 

5.2 Staying out judgement which is being open to what the other is feeling and refrain from giving comments that invalidate their experience such as saying ‘that’s nothing to complain !’’ or just asking ‘accommodate and live with it.’ 

5.3 Recognise emotions is to go deeper within and connect with the feelings yourself and fully acknowledge the situation in light of feelings and making the other aware of it 

5.4 Communication truly in the spirit of help and validating their feeling and experience of something saying what they need to hear. Using words like ‘that must be really hard, I can’t imagine you have to go through this!’ or even encouraging words such as ‘I am proud how you are holding on’ , or even say, ‘That’s very brave of you!’ 

6. Your truth is not my reality 

The reason we fail to understand is we listen to reply and not really understand. We are driven by curiosity to know but significantly lack skills how to deal with it. People’s take of their reality of a situation is different from one another and their perspectives may not be the same. For e.g. one may feel fulfilled with excess work while another resents it. Where perceptions match, it become a meaningful conversation with so much to relate. Conversations that resonate with another as well as opposing views are both important to life. Hearing different perspectives and allowing such thinking re-assures that what they are going through is real. 

7. Mutual respect 

Understanding is possible when you respect one another. How we choose to respect another is often aligned to our core values, understanding is taking a step beyond, it is when we are self-aware of our values yet hold the space for others who are not of the same composition. It is more about respecting differences than simply resonating similarities. To have mutual respect is also to have profound understanding of someone. 

Thus, as we seek ways to find more meaning in our everyday relationships, we become less hateful in our online comments, we write more engaging e-mails and we become more caring to the people around us. That way we build resilience, build hope in our communities promising to always look out for one another no matter what. Remembering so, ‘to handle yourself use your head, to handle others use your heart.’ 

In a time of a global pandemic, where trust is slowly ripped, working is remote, and social cohesion is tragically falling apart, a little empathy and understanding can go a long way to keep people glued in the right direction. Ultimately it is not just about our mental health, it is about mental well-being and not giving up on our promise of humanity to one another.


(The writer is a global learning and employee engagement adviser and can be reached via email [email protected])


Recent columns