We’ve all been watching the news, scrolling through our devices for the latest updates and on the edge of our seats when an announcement is being made by a government health official that mentions the terms: coronavirus or COVID-19.
During all my recent social interactions, no conversation has gone by without a mention of how it has affected us in some way or a retelling of stories that we have seen on the front pages at newsstands.
Being based in the San Francisco Bay Area (and currently sheltering-in-place), I could only watch from afar and rely on news from friends and family in Singapore, New Zealand, South Korea.
It’s been interesting to observe the different strands to conversations about coronovirus here (actually, it’s quite similar across the world!): There’s a camp that is very laid back; there’s a camp that believes it’ll go away by the summer; and then there’s a small camp that has raided every supermarket and store for sanitizers, masks and disposable gloves. And, yes, unfortunately there are those who believe that it only affects people of a certain race and ethnicity as we read here, here, here and many others.
It is these ill-informed people that have held me back from speaking out a little more – because people are quick to judge. It was only when two people I know shared their personal take on the situation and encouraged me to speak out with love and not fear that I am able to write this. Since the time that I started writing this piece, the US has overtaken all countries for the most deaths due to Covid-19, and xenophobia has taken hold around the world.
From my vantage point, I’ve read about a student in London getting bashed, Asian-American students facing racism in school, I’ve seen the reactions to a tone-deaf, public tweet from world-renowned UC Berkeley making xenophobia “okay”; and seen the loss of customer support for Asian-owned businesses.
I’ve let this coronavirus chaos and the emotions it engendered to wash over me. I was engaged, but not endangered.
Then, it happened to me.
I was walking down my city’s main street some time ago, running some errands when a middle-aged man walked towards me and shouted: “Get away from me you disgusting f****** coronavirus!” It left me speechless, intimidated and not knowing what to do, I automatically sought safety from the closest store ahead of me.
Since then, many other reports of racially charged attacks have taken place across the country and have even resulted in a reporting tool where citizens can submit any incidents that they see or experience.
How might we have more empathy in our communities during a time that infected case numbers are increasing daily? How can we ensure that these skills remain long after the virus is defeated by humanity?
1. It’s about the heart of humanity.
A friend recently shared with me an illustration of what COVID-19’s protease looks like on a molecular level. For a virus that has brought this much fear, division and xenophobia, it is ironically in the shape of a heart. My mind often drifts back to this image and reminds me of what our communities need most: Love and empathy. It is in crisis that we find character. Government and community leaders need to be held to a higher standard where they can objectively assess and analyse facts, strategically plan ahead and keep communication lines open. Not forgetting who they serve, utilising skills such as active-listening, safe-space making and leading in vulnerability will resonate and put people’s hearts and minds at ease while still focusing on creating solutions.
– How might I be able to respond in love, kindness and compassion, even to those who do not do the same?
– How might we be able to learn and practise non-violent communication?
– Can we remember that it is often those who are the most scared, stressed and fearful that tend to react in such unloving ways?
2. Be Community Minded
One common refrain I keep hearing is that it is only the vulnerable – senior citizens, the very young or those with underlying medical conditions that need to worry. This concerns me. Dealing with Covid-19 requires a community effort: Everyone needs to be part of the solution. This narrative that only some people need to worry about the coronavirus translates into individuals who don’t consider themselves in the “at-risk” group and take a lackadaisical approach to personal hygiene and community care. We need to be responsible not just for our own well-being but for the well-being of the wider community.
– How might I be of support/service to my community during this time?
– How can I encourage love and empathy to be nurtured in my place of work or community?
– What might I be able to do (no matter how small) in order to be part of the solution?
3. Be Present and then learn to embrace the new normal
There has been a lot of panic, chaos and then there’s the uncertainty of how these months will impact the future-state of our cities and the world. We can easily start to feel the anxiety when we focus on things we really don’t have any control over. Something I’ve started to do to remind myself to stay present and to build the inner-resilience is to
(1) Map out what I need. Whether that’s making sure I set boundaries for how much news I will watch or ensuring that I get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
(2) Map out what my loved ones need. How might I be of support to them during this ‘new normal’? How should I communicate and connect with them?
(3) Map out what my community needs and;
(4) Map out what my future community needs. This is where I allow my thoughts to focus on the future, briefly, as I allow myself to dream, imagine and create.
– What about this situation is causing me discomfort, anxiety or perhaps fear?
– Is there anything I can do? List them out and see what you can put into action.
– How might I reframe this situation in a positive light?
4. Let’s be mindful about privilege and inequality.
We must ask ourselves whether we’re viewing the world through a lens of privilege. Have you thought about those who have chronic illnesses or underlying conditions, or those who have lost loved ones or suffered in other outbreaks? How would they feel about such careless comments?
Other times, you’ll hear someone say that it’s not a big deal. In the US, an estimated 44 million people lack adequate healthcare or don’t have it at all. It is a big deal for them. What about those who are on the front lines of the fight? Or those of whom not going to work due to a self-quarantine order could mean the difference between having a job and losing it? While it may not be about life or death – it is about livelihood and quality of life. It is a big deal for them.
– Am I seeing through the lens of my lived experience and bias?
– How might I be able to see through the lens of someone else who is navigating their own journey?
– In what ways can I be more thoughtful in addressing this situation?
– How can I support, advocate or speak up on behalf of friends or community members?
– How might I ensure that I am not ‘tone deaf’ to what others are experiencing globally and locally?
While things are ever-changing during this time, the coronavirus has, for the most part, united the world. For the first time in a long time, humanity has banded together to cheer each other on, lend support and resources, – for a common purpose, to defeat an invisible foe that has tragically visible consequences.
You can do good where you are. Follow the government’s guidelines and find ways to help. Take care of your mental and emotional health. Stay safe.