Connecting with Others Through Times of Difficulty and Uncertainty
On April 6th, The Washington Post shared a story in their Voices of the Pandemic series about an anesthesiologist who intubates patients diagnosed with COVID-19. The same day, Movember posted on Instagram about a grocery store clerk and his interactions with customers. Both stories, though focused on different professions and contexts, highlight the importance of empathy and connection in uncertain times.
When you look up the root meaning of empathy, em- translates to “in,” and path- (pathos) translates to “feeling.” Through empathy, we are challenged to envision ourselves in the world of another person. For a moment, we are invited to learn, to become more open to another’s perspective of why they feel what they do. When we put aside our biases and judgments, we open a new world of understanding. Empathy is not always comfortable because it can place us in situations we may not be familiar with. Our job in these scenarios is simply to be the student in the story of another person as they teach us about what they are experiencing.
Currently, we exist during a time where ambiguity and anxiety are heightened, where empathy as a practice feels difficult to implement. I imagine the anesthesiologist trying his best to be fully present with his patient, “[standing] for a minute outside the room and [thinking] about them and what they’re going through…[thinking about] a positive expectation.” In this moment, I imagine compassion being provided. With the grocery clerk, I picture him giving customers his full, undivided attention, “knowing this might be the only time [they are] out of their house.” I picture him helping someone as best as possible, ensuring they get enough food and supplies as they practice physical distancing. If empathy means that we are to put ourselves in the place of another, how can one begin to engage? One way to empathize with another person is to simply listen.
The days of this pandemic have turned into weeks, weeks into months, making it easy to grow complacent about building and maintaining a connection with others. When we practice empathy, we pause and create space to consider the thoughts and feelings of another. Listening with empathy means to focus on what the storyteller is saying without trying to formulate a response. It means learning to notice our own thoughts so that we can set them aside and make space for another. Try asking yourself:
- What am I feeling while I listen to this person’s story?
- What is my body language expressing when sharing the same physical space with another person?
- In our virtual interactions, am I minimizing distractions so I can focus completely on the person I’m speaking with?
- Am I aware of the different ways my written words could be interpreted through an email or text message?
Most importantly, one should continuously ask, “How can I stay curious?” By remaining curious and bringing empathy into conversations we acknowledge that this is not mine to fix or solve but to hold space for you to share.
Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood once said, “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” If we take the time to listen and open up our minds and hearts to one another, we can find those points of connection — because we are all connected by the shared uncertainty of this pandemic.
Just as the little things we do play a pivotal role in helping to flatten the curve, the little acts of empathy we share with another person add up. Whether it’s in a hospital, the grocery store, or the comfort of our homes, we have the opportunity to make a difference with our words and actions.
Want to learn more about how to connect with others? Download our Listening Well: Inviting Stories from Others PDF, and share how you’re creating the space to listen to the stories of others in the comments.