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JOURNAL

The Truth About Uncertainty & Why Empathy Matters

April 16, 2020

We're living in unprecedented times. Something historic. Everyone we know and love is struggling with the tragedy unfolding before us. If that sounds dramatic, that's because this is a dramatic moment. Even though we're slowly starting to manage the surreal state of our new reality, everything is still very uncertain. Our economy has been paused, plans for graduations, school events and holidays are canceled or online. And for those of us dealing with life's other uncertainties (like illness), the threat of a new, contagious disease induces waves of fear. In other words, the burden of uncertainty (Is there a light at the end of this tunnel?) is very real. 

It's tempting to want to peer into the future and see how, and when, this situation will work out, especially because resting in the unknown can trigger even more anxiety and paralysis. But one thing we do know is this: empathy matters. Facing darkness with light, love and compassion makes a difference. The following are some truths to consider as we continue to cope with uncertainty.  

We Must Practice Empathy For Ourselves And Others  

When COVID-19 spread and became a pandemic, we initially felt adrenaline and panic. But, as Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston explains, once the rush subsides, that’s when “the loss of normal swallows us whole.” What we’re often left with is pure exhaustion. We begin to truly suffer. Dr. Brown goes on to explain that without thinking, we start to rank our suffering and use it to deny ourselves permission to feel: I can’t be angry and scared right now because other people have it worse. I can’t be tired right now because so many people don’t have a job. But this is not how emotions and feelings work. It’s called Comparative Suffering and it is dangerous, unhelpful, and ultimately, will not make us feel less scared. The reality is, when it comes to feeling empathy, there isn’t a limited supply. Dr. Brown explains, “When we practice empathy with ourselves, and others, we create more empathy.” We need to allow ourselves to feel upset about this crisis. It’s ok to be stressed out about work, even if we’re lucky to still have a job. It’s ok to be sad, even if we’re healthy.

Yes, We Are Making A Difference

Through tremendous sacrifice and strict discipline, we are making a difference. In order to slow the spread of the disease and flatten the curve, the daily rate of cases across the country has to decline below a critical value. It does appear that the total number of new cases is stabilizing. Our efforts are working—let’s keep it up! While we’re at it, a big shout out to businesses everywhere who are supporting communities in peril with actions like donating school lunches, shifting their manufacturing to hand sanitizer, PPE, face masks and more. Our country has pulled together before, and this moment is no different. We can make a difference.

It Feels Like So Much, Because It Is So Much

Some of us have never experienced a real, true break from our daily routines. Every overachiever is likely feeling anxious right now and searching for a way to “optimize the quarantine” so that they can emerge stronger, smarter and healthier than before. But the reality is this: it’s ok if all we do is survive a global pandemic. It’s true! Working full-time from home is one thing, but homeschooling kids at the same time? That’s a lot! Staying home and cooking our own meals is fine and fun. But, learning to bake bread and be a master chef? That’s a lot! The pressures to succeed from home and this crisis will pass––we’ll be better on the other side––but, sorry, we’re all getting the same participation ribbon. 

We’re Making Tough Decisions 

The risk of exposure to the virus is far, far greater for some of us. And we all must do our part to limit community spread to protect individuals with weakened immune systems. Anyone who has recently had surgery, undergone radiation therapy or chemotherapy and people with chronic health conditions are all considered high-risk. So, it is with great uncertainty that many of us are postponing treatments, followup visits, scans, and important procedures with our doctors. The agony of not knowing whether or not delaying treatment will cause harm is palpable. Yet, the risk of not doing so is great. For others, not being able to visit the elderly and vulnerable causes confusion, loneliness and worry. These difficult decisions are not made lightly. We are remaining strong, together, by staying safe at home. 

In the end, we are all taking on so much. We’re working hard to protect our families, our health, and our communities by making tough calls. We're banding together for support. We deserve to give ourselves a break and truly feel our emotions vs. shame them away. As the unemployment rate rises (as it’s predicted to), we’ll have even more uncertainty on our plates. (We recommend the career resource center if this applies.) But, for now, it's important to trust that we are evolving through this pandemic. When we finally look back at this time in our lives, we hope it will be the offerings of empathy, kindness and unity that stand out as our best and brightest moments.

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” — Henry David Thoreau

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