Compassion in the midst of crisis: 5 ways to help

Apr 02, 2020
Like many others, my initial reaction to the dominating reality of “social distancing” (now “physical distancing”) was to close my circle.

Friends – see ya later. Colleagues – a Skype message will have to do. Neighbours – the friendly wave from a distance is now protocol.  The daily onslaught of news on coronavirus’ spread, combined with my growing fears, made these smart decisions.

At the same time, I’m a volunteer-in-my-community and greet-the-stranger-on-the-street type of guy. I regularly welcome my friends into my house with a hug. These acts give me energy.

As for my wife and two young kids – even great families begin to go stir crazy after a few weeks of 24-hour contact.

As a new reality sets in, my fear has extended beyond catching the virus to the impact social distancing is having on my ability to show acts of compassion. At the end of each day, I felt disconnected from my community and the wider world.

Equally frightening to consider was whether our society was following the same path?

The sole of a baby's right foot. Be like this little piggy.
Memes like this one are helping to spread public health messages to stay at home.

To Italy for inspiration
We are in the middle of an unprecedented crisis that requires each of us to play our part to keep ourselves and others safe. This fact should be our primary focus but not our only focus.

To regain my sense of self and my faith in humanity, I went on a search for inspiration.

Other avenues being limited, I first turned to Facebook. After scrolling through what seemed like 300 posts on flattening the curve (which is of course important), I discovered something unexpected.

The country hardest hit by COVID-19 brought me hope.

As a way to raise spirits and show community, residents of Naples, Italy took to their balconies to sing together. Their actions reinforced that all of humanity is in this crisis together and it will take local and international acts of compassion to get us through.

What we can do here
As you try to navigate your own challenges and unknowns, know that there a growing movement in Canada for good, also known as #caremongering. With Italian singers as our inspiration, here are five ways you can show compassion as an individual, in solidarity with others, or as a global citizen:

1. Show support for health care workers
Bang pots and pans at 7:30pm each night along with your neighbours. Search #TogetherWeCanDoIt to see some examples.

2. Support your local food bank
Did you go a little overboard at the grocery store? How about donating some to your local foodbank, who are one of the last lines of defence for people struggling to get by each day.

3. Donate blood
In the face of spiking cancellations and continuing needs, donating blood at this time is critical. As a preventative measure, clinic staff are even coming out to donors waiting in cars and bringing them in one-at-a-time.

4. Reach out to seniors in your life
Being most at risk from the coronavirus’ spread (and potentially most isolated), grandpa, grandma or your great aunt needs to hear from you during this time. Phone them regularly or teach them how to use FaceTime or Zoom.

5. Remember our shared humanity in fighting this virus - We also need to also recognize the devastating consequences the virus' spread could have in refugee camps and other challenging places. Sign this petition affirming your support for a focus both on home and on the world's most vulnerable. 

A mother and her daughter walk through the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar.Jannatul, 5, with her mother, Salima, live in cramped quarters, along with nearly a million other Rohingya refugees, in Bangladesh. Social distancing is nearly impossible here. Photo credit: Jon Warren

Betty shining a light
Now for my own story. My heart was moved recently by a phone call from my former neighbour, Betty. This wonderful Greek woman used to provide cookies for my kids and wise advice to my wife and me until we moved last year.

Living alone, without her adult children able to visit, Betty shared her fears and the boredom of social distancing. While I couldn’t change her circumstances, FaceTime allowed us to share common concerns, to keep our connection strong, as well as the opportunity for her to see her “grandkids” run around.

It’s now on me to pay it forward.

An older woman wearing a pink jacket.
Betty Karamalegos. A wonderful mother, neighbour, and friend is finding isolation amid COVID-19 a challenge. Photo credit: Sofie Wilcox

Embrace your search for compassion
“Stay safe.”

It’s a line I’m hearing a lot more these days and comes from our common concern for each other.

As you continue to prioritize your and others’ safety in the weeks ahead, remember that small, simple acts of kindness and compassion is what’s going to get us through this – selfless health care workers, teachers struggling to provide online lessons, parents working and caring for kids or their parents, and grocery store staff continuing to work, despite the risks.

Because caring for our neighbours here and everywhere – it’s the Canadian way.

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