*The Solution to This Pandemic: Empathy” was written by Amy Nam, a 15-year-old from Toronto, Canada. Nam’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.
“China has confirmed over 300 cases of the coronavirus,” I told my school on January 23 in the weekly announcements, as if I were reporting the weather. That afternoon, a classmate asked me if I was Chinese. “No,” I replied, smiling stiffly. “I’m Korean.” My gut clenched at the relief on his face. A few weeks later, I read on the CNBC website that Lyft and Uber drivers were refusing to open their car doors to East Asian-Americans.
A month after, I cheered upon receiving the news that my March break would extend another two weeks, then sulked along with my brother as our most anticipated events got canceled. My parents shook their heads and huffed. “Honestly, I hate Chinese people,” my dad muttered bitterly. “Why do they have to ruin everything?”
In a mere few weeks, our world has spun out of orbit, and with it, our sense of morality and empathy. Fueled by ignorance and fear, racism and xenophobia have possessed our minds, leading to verbal and physical attacks on East Asians. But they are not the only ones bearing the brunt of this pandemic. My parents, who are doctors, have been imprisoned in their offices, eye bags deepening, wrists aching from writing countless patient reports, voices hoarse from call after call.
“I signed up to take care of sick patients,” Emergency Room Nurse Sydni Lane, BSN, RN, said on Instagram. “I did not sign up to be unprotected by their sickness… to be yelled at by angry patients because our government failed to be prepared… to risk mine and my family’s health and safety because people did what they were told not to.”
*EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the Instagram post Amy mentions in her story. Please be aware that profanity is featured in it. The full version is featured below.
I hear this sentiment echoed in the exhausted faces of my parents when they come home from work, their expressions defeated. The panic stemming from this pandemic has blinded us to the plight of others, preventing us from looking past our mantra of “me, me, me” as we strictly pursue our own interests with little regard for who we might harm along the way, physically and emotionally.
While my parents work tirelessly day and night, others don’t—can’t—work at all. “Financial markets are facing their worst crisis since 1929,” CNBC reported in March. “The upcoming job losses will be unlike anything the U.S. has ever seen.”
People stare at their bare cupboards and piles of bills, hopelessly glancing at their children, whose stomachs remain empty due to the closure of their schools. Gathering what little money they have, they go to the grocery store, passing by elderly people stuck in the parking lot, terrified to walk inside. Past the doors, the shelves are empty, frantically raided by people the previous night.
Humanity has tumbled into a state of unrelenting panic and anxiety, the needles of our moral compasses spinning uncontrollably, unable to decide on one direction.
I clenched my jaw at my classmate’s offensive generalization, but nodded along to my dad’s xenophobic comment about hating Chinese people, too focused on all of my canceled events to realize the irony. A cashier at the grocery store yelled at my dad for stepping within a six-foot radius of him, then proceeded to talk to a customer across the counter for five minutes. Yet our glaring hypocrisy goes unnoticed by us, and we much rather condemn someone than stand on the receiving end.
We are dividing at a time where unification is most crucial, pointing our fingers accusingly when we should be connecting through our shared vulnerability and fear of an unknown future.
Mindlessly stumbling our way through this pandemic with insults as weapons will not get us any closer to the end. We must walk through it, hand in hand, and cross the finish line together.
In this tornado of a pandemic, how can we find the outstretched hands of one another? It begins with empathy, with placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes and walking around, feeling every unusual arch, tight space, and loose rip.
Stuck inside our homes and unable to physically connect with others, we have the opportunity to virtually reach out through the internet. At a time when one certainty is as dubious the next, it is vital to stay informed and get our daily—or hourly—dose of information.
Simply touching upon facts is not sufficient; to truly gain empathy, we must learn the experiences and perspectives of others, and how and why they differ from our own. Refusing to look through the lens of only one person, we must find editorials and personal essays on news websites, blogs, and social media platforms told from a multitude of perspectives: from the very old, the very young, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and more. For example, the YouTube channel “ASIAN BOSS” covers a variety of East Asian perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic, and even interviewed a citizen from Wuhan.
Sharing our own voices is just as significant as heeding those of others. By offering our experiences and views to the world, we can help foster empathy and create a wider sense of community by informing others that they are not alone. Write the World is a great place to start, with its 30,000 users always willing to hear and to listen.
Most importantly, once we find the hand of another, we must clasp hold, and not let go. We can contact others within our local community — people whose stories we’ve read — and ask of their opinions, their fears, their hopes. We can demonstrate empathy by being patient with our doctors and nurses, volunteering to do a grocery run for our elderly neighbor, and donating to charities working to help those in need—a step further would be to start our own. There are endless ways for us to tie strings across the community and pull it closer together.
In early March, a Chinese company donated thousands of masks to Italy. “We are waves from the same sea,” it wrote. Within the chaos and confusion of this pandemic, it is important to understand that our health and concerns are no more important than those of anyone else. Each of our voices holds equal weight, equal value. We are all fighting the same battle, and we all want to win. We’re cut from the same cloth, you and me.
Instagram Post From
Emergency Room Nurse Sydni Lane, BSN, RN
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the full Instagram post Amy mentions in her story. Please be aware that profanity is featured in it.
View this post on Instagram
I broke down and cried today. I cried of exhaustion, of defeat. Because after 4 years of being an ER nurse, I suddenly feel like I know nothing. Because my face hurts after wearing an N95 for 13 fucking hours, which happens to be the same N95 I wore yesterday for 12.5 hours, and the same one from all last week. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the statement “but this is what you signed up for”. Just, no. I signed up to take care of sick patients, yes. I did not sign up to be unprotected by their sickness (although my hospital is busting their asses to try to protect us). I did not sign up to be yelled at by angry patients because our government failed to be prepared. I did not sign up to risk mine and my family’s health and safety because people wanted to go on their vacations after they said NOT to. An ER nurse in New York died today of COVID-19. He was in his 40s and had very mild asthma. That’s it. This is not just a tall tale, this is the real risk. I have to go into every patient’s room and in the back of my mind I think “this could be the patient that gets me sick… that kills me”. “This could be the patient that gives me the virus I bring home to my children or asthmatic husband”. This is my new reality. But this is only the beginning. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the impact of what this illness is going to make on our country. And I’m scared.
*The Solution to This Pandemic: Empathy” was written by Amy Nam, a 15-year-old from Toronto, Canada. Nam’s article appears as an entry in the 20-party Write the World Civics in Action project, a collaboration that includes Parentology, the National Children’s Campaign and Facing History & Ourselves.
Read more in the Youth Voices section of Parentology.
Write the World Civics in Action — Sources
CNBC: As coronavirus panic spreads, Uber and Lyft riders of Asian descent are reporting discrimination from drivers
Newsweek: Chinese company donates tens of thousands of masks to coronavirus-stricken Italy
CNBC: Analyst anticipates ‘worst’ financial crisis since 1929 amid fears of a global recession