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  • Writer's pictureFriendship In Action

Practicing Empathy During COVID-19

The essence of empathy is kindness. Whether the kindness naturally flows from a parent to a child or among old friends, the heart of it is a consideration for another person’s well-being. It often manifests in the noble expression of love for our closest family and it also takes form in the proverbial random acts done, with care, for people we do not know well.

During the pandemic, the depth of suffering has been plain. Children wearing masks in classrooms and now compelled to learn online. Folks losing their livelihood or their business. Homeless inhabiting tents in our parks. The plague of loneliness accentuated. Compassion fatigue sets in.

Drawing on the teachings of Buddhism and the emerging study of emotions, we can face this moment with equanimity and empathy. The opportunities to relieve suffering are seemingly endless. To the extent that one has the energy and inner strength to be present for those who are in pain, one can use the gift of empathy effectively in so many ways.

Buddhist Wisdom & Empathy: How to Be There for Others

Practising Listening with Empathy, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Levels of anxiety and rates of depression have risen with confirmed cases and deaths in our communities. How can we help? By reaching out to those who need our kindness. Simply being with someone, whether socially distanced and masked or on a Zoom call, and listening opens the possibility of alleviating the isolation and alienation wrought by the restrictions of the health protocols.

Some FIA facilitators have volunteered to be crisis responders for Kids Help Phone. The training process required of the willing includes many strategies based on empathy. Though the idea of assessing a person’s risk of suicide is daunting, the community of support and experienced supervisors allows one to be empathetic and mindful for the benefit of the individual who is in pain.

If you are privileged to live in a stable, safe home (and can work remotely from the comfort of your environment), empathy can be practiced online for those who are willing to engage in talking about their feelings. When you venture out for essential trips, you can treat everyone you meet with a heart of gratitude for their generosity and heroism in providing essential services.

Wearing a mask and keeping one’s distance is now an act of kindness. Abiding by the public health directives is also caring. Refraining from selfish behaviours is both responsible and sensitive. Your attention and intention turn to the well-being of others.

And the benefits of loving-kindness accrue to all, including the caregiver. It is in this open-hearted exchange of troubling, often uncomfortable feelings that we see each other clearly and build relationships that have the capacity to nourish each other.

Friendship In Action invites you to open your heart to whoever needs you to listen and connect with empathy. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”, Maya Angelou.

Learn more about Friendship In Action's online groups for adults and youth.

- Cam Kilgour, FIA Team Member

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