Change, Fear and Empathy
These past few weeks, people globally have felt anxiety against new rules and lockdowns inhibiting our usual behaviors, norms, and ways of being. Today, people are still fighting against global health advisories to stay home in favor of their lifelong embedded habits of being social and connected creatures, and there’s a pervasive fear against the vast changes that are happening to our lives everyday. But as change is normal, so is fear, and what we can control is how we redirect the fear, towards empathy and away from racism, hate and anger.
As we’re all inundated with data, facts and fake news, we’re seeing how people are reacting to their fear and the change. Some people are continuing life as is (perhaps fatalistically if they’re in the vulnerable groups), because they’ve seen enough ups and downs in life that they are considering this life as usual. Others who haven’t been exposed to wide ranges of economic, mental, physical and emotional turmoil are panicking and realizing how much their upwardly mobile life contrast with the experience of the rest of the world. For others, their fear of not being able to feed their children and of being safe outweigh the fear of the change or even the risk of becoming sick themselves.
Some people are responding to their fear through racism and angry outward action. Through countless racist acts against people of Asian descent near and far, some people have chosen that rather than understand and sit in the discomfort of their fear, they would expel it and fuel their anger with their fear. Though the fear all of us feel may be caused by different experiences, the feeling of fear is universal.
In this time of change and discomfort, now is the time for all of us to express deeper and wider empathy for one another. We’re all responsible for this. For lawmakers to create laws and policies that can represent the needs and lives of the majority, even if it doesn’t make everyone happy. For leaders to listen for what people are really asking for and worried about, and to lead with compassion and realism. For each person to check in with people they’ve met throughout their life journey and to see if they can help. Empathy is and has always been possible.
These are trying times for everyone on a personal, family and work level and being empathetic to ourselves is equally as important as empathy for others. For myself, my comfort has come from what my Buddhist upbringing and de-stabilizing childhood has taught me, which is that this too shall pass.
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”
Now, more than ever, it’s important to remember our lives and experiences are impermanent and in this moment, what we can choose to have is empathy with the knowledge that we are all afraid. This is true whether or not Covid is present. Though we are being connected by our global fight against Covid today, humans can always — in a world with or without Covid — be connected deeply by our internal fights against our fears, insecurities, loss and the fragility of life. Covid has brought our usual internal chaotic discomforts into our daily conversations, media and culture globally. The world is panicked and crying, and it has been for a long time