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Guest Post - Pandemics Breed Fear. Empathy is the Cure.

By Joe Mayall - check out more of his work at JoeWrote


During times of normalcy, society rolls out of bed in the morning with the lone certainty that the course of the day is undetermined; we embark with a plan of where we will go and what we will do, but we accept that at some point, our itinerary will be altered by a yet-to-be-known occurrence. Yet, this uncertainty doesn’t scare us, for we take solace in the comfort that someone, in a station above our own, is in control. If we are unexpectedly assigned a new project at work — that’s fine, the boss knows what’s best for the company. If we bypass a fender bender on our commute — unfortunate, but the police will be by momentarily. Even global events that are far from our purview have their architects and overseers; presidents and generals keep a keen eye on tranquil summits and chaotic wars to ensure everything is going according to plan. Yet, for the first time in living memory, there isn’t a single figure we mere civilians can look to as a source of omnipotence. The COVID-19 pandemic has enshrouded the globe and all its inhabitants in a fog of ignorance. As the virus’s capabilities are currently unknown, even those who have spent their lives studying pathogens such as COVID-19 are among the ranks of the ignorant: Can it be contracted more than once? Will it evolve, rendering potential vaccines obsolete? The experts don’t know, and therefore neither do we. Without the answers to these questions, our more personal ones, like when we’ll be released from our increasingly prison-like homes, our when it’s safe to hug our grandparents, are left unanswered. From this soil of uncertainty grows the poison stalk of fear. Just like the pathogen, the symptoms of fear manifest differently in each of its victims. Some will become hostile and lash out at the few humans they can still interact with. Some will slip into depression, not seeing any reason to escape their bed only to be confined in their home. Anger, sadness, hopelessness, and erraticism will all become commonplace in our temporarily desolate society. But like every disease, even the one that currently besieges us, the poison of fear has an antidote: empathy. As we wait, be empathetic. Give everyone, family members and strangers alike, the utmost benefit of the doubt. If a colleague is terse in an email — let it slide; maybe their loved one isn’t feeling well. When a fellow motorist cuts you off — no need to honk; distracted by the gravity of the moment, they probably didn’t even see you. Assume everyone is scared, because they are. Assume everyone is worried about their family, because they are. Assume everyone is looking towards the future, bewildered and petrified about what the world will look like on the other side of the pandemic, because they are. Fear and uncertainty cause us to act differently. They corrupt our consciousness like a pathogen corrupts the respiratory system. They cause us to disregard collective social norms and individual morals, coercing us to behave in a manner that we never would if we were free from their infection. When someone is impolite or ill-mannered, let’s not react as if that is indicative of their character. Remember, the fears of others are identical to our own.


Check out more of Joe's work at JoeWrote for articles on healthcare, politics and entertainment.



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