*”Fostering Community Empathy During COVID 19” was written by Elizabeth Anderson, an 18-year-old US native. Anderson’s article appears as an entry in the 20-part Write the World Civics in Action project, a collaboration that includes Parentology, The National Children’s Campaign and Facing History & Ourselves.
Fostering Community Empathy During COVID 19
I am a high school senior in the time of COVID-19. Years from now, I will tell friends, bosses, children, and coworkers that I was one of the teenagers who lost their senior band trip to Disney World, their last prom, final dance recitals and concerts and musical productions, senior week, and potentially graduation. I was one of the kids who lost precious moments with people I might never see again, but who I still called friends. I can say that was me.
I have known since January that COVID-19 would affect me, but I never realized it would be like this. I am no longer solely overwhelmed by schoolwork, scholarship applications, and college decisions, but by the news, social media, event cancellations, loss of work, Zoom meetings, and the possibility that I might not see meaningful people in my life until at least summer, if not longer or ever again.
These things have caused great anxiety in me. I am someone who feels more comfortable when I am in control of a situation, and right now I feel like that control has spiraled out of my hands. It’s only been a few weeks, and I already miss exploring my hometown with good friends and family, surprising people who have had hard days at school and work with cards and chocolate, and even driving to and from school.
But while anxiety is valid in these uncertain times, I know that focusing too much on myself could result in sadness, loneliness, and depression. I have to remember to reach out, especially because so many people are going through the same thing I am right now.
“Being isolated is a hard thing to go through,” Molly Rhoades, a senior at Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Maryland said. “Being a senior, I have a lot of things to look forward to…that might not happen now. I miss being able to hug and laugh with [my friends] at school every day.”
Another senior, Dana Kullgren of Linganore High School in Frederick, Maryland, said, “I miss high-fiving people in the hall…feeling like I’m a part of something at academic team practices, and knowing what the next few months will hold.”
So how do I–how do we–focus our energy outward rather than inward during this time? I believe our answer lies in empathy. In its simplest form, empathy is a mutual understanding and sharing of feelings between individuals or groups. Unlike sympathy, empathy is a two-way interaction, and for that reason it is important when practicing empathy to know how to listen and share in a balanced way.
Empathy is essential to our mental and emotional well-being, not only because it’s helpful to talk to others about our collective experiences but also because empathizing for and with a broader community can provide a sense of fulfillment that we cannot receive by only empathizing for ourselves.
“For me…making sure my loved ones are safe and healthy relieves a lot of stress and anxiety I have right now. And I know it helps them a lot to know they are being taken care of and have help when they need it most,” Molly Rhoades said.
“Empathizing with others helps you learn to regulate your own emotions,” said author and educational consultant Kendra Cherry in her Verywell Mind article ”Importance and Benefits of Empathy. “Emotional regulation is important in that it allows you to manage what you are feeling, even in times of great stress, without becoming overwhelmed.”
Empathy is an ability that anyone can use, but it can also be honed and developed in order to build stronger connections with others. The best way to grow empathically is to strive to see the world at a larger scale.
Empathy should not discriminate against people of different backgrounds, characteristics, and values; therefore, it is crucial that those wishing to be empathic seek out different perspectives not only at a local or national level, but at a global level as well. In this way, empathy also helps to break down trivial barriers created to separate people of diverse races, religions, abilities, income levels, and many other traits.
To me, exploring a diverse point of view at such a large scale could be referred to as community empathy, and looking at the bigger picture in this way is a pathway to practicing individualized empathy at a smaller level.
To exercise community empathy, particularly without the help of travel or face to face interactions during this outbreak, tools like social media, educational resources, books, and blogs are incredibly useful. If you have newfound time, use it to learn about new cultures, reach out to people in different countries, read about the experiences of a person living in poverty or someone who is LGBTQ+. Start discussions with loved ones about the experiences of others and build a base of knowledge that allows you to understand what a person might be going through and connect with them despite your differences.
Personally, I’m taking this time to reach out to friends in other countries to learn how their nations are dealing with COVID-19, as well as listen to their personal experiences.
Through these interactions, I’ve learned that living in different nations or cultures does not necessarily mean that experiences will be different. Other high school and college seniors around the world are feeling the same way I am right now, and some have underlying political and social issues that are making it even more difficult for them. Keeping in touch with those friends has allowed me to keep my own situation in perspective, and certainly to empathize with others.
Empathy is a powerful force in any situation, but particularly right now. It can drive us away from our burdens and toward enlightenment and the sense of fulfillment that many of us are actively seeking. So I urge you–practice empathy. Reach out to others.
I may be a senior in the time of COVID-19, but that does not mean I am powerless.
*The Solution to This Pandemic: Empathy” was written by Elizabeth Anderson, an 18-year-old US native. Anderson’s article appears as an entry in the 20-part Write the World Civics in Action project, a collaboration that includes Parentology, the National Children’s Campaign and Facing History & Ourselves.
Write the World Civics in Action: Sources
Verywell Mind, Importance and Benefits of Empathy