To an extraterrestrial outsider who hasn’t been paying attention, it may appear like our civilization is falling apart.
Things do that sometimes.
However, despite appearances and all evidence to the contrary, that is not what is happening among us.
But we are in a different time, to be sure.
And not just us; everybody!
It is rare that something unites the entire planet.
There are more opportunities for unity than we allow to impact our thinking.
Other global issues that should bring us together include: climate change; critical drinking-water shortage; vast economic disparity; genocide; political corruption. The list goes on.
Human health and welfare should rank at the top.
And right now, it does.
The global pandemic known as COVID-19 or coronavirus is the talk of every nation.
The virus that is sweeping across the world seems to impact to the worst extent those who are advanced in age or who live with overt or underlying health conditions that are pre-existing, although there are other cases that suggest it is not necessarily confined to just that demographic.
There are plenty of epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, and public health experts who can speak intelligently to this outbreak. Pay attention to them; they know what they are talking about.
But most importantly, do your best to remain calm, rational, patient, and non-reactive.
To date, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in western Kentucky. That will not be true much longer.
And that is sad. But it is also OK.
It isn’t preferable, to be sure, and I can’t help but send all the well-wishing I can to those who have been infected, including especially those who are most vulnerable to the symptoms generated by the virus.
But this virus will not be the end of us.
Neither was HIV-AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis, SARS, measles, shingles, whooping cough, diphtheria, norovirus, Ebola… The list of dangerous and deadly diseases goes on.
And here we are. So far, we have survived.
That is an amazing thing, actually; it is sometimes hard to imagine how we’ve made it this far.
In short, we are resilient.
It is the superpower that human beings possess over all other species.
That, and empathy.
And perhaps love.
Resilience. Empathy. Love.
These are the antidotes to the ill-effects of coronavirus.
They themselves will not fend off fever, respiratory difficulty, or pain. But they will be what ultimately pushes humanity across the threshold into survival.
Resilience is the emotional and psychological hardiness that human beings possess that permits us to recover, oftentimes better and stronger than we were to begin with.
Empathy means understanding what others are going through, what they are feeling, and accepting it without feeling the need to judge, correct, or cure them. It is recognizing,
understanding, and accepting what someone else is feeling or experiencing.
Love is, well, love. It is affection, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, adoration. It is cherishing someone as-is, rather than as-if. It is a wholehearted commitment to someone’s best interests.
Buy your Clorox wipes and your toilet paper, because I know you want to stay safe, clean, and comfortable, and because you worry you might be stuck in your home a while, and want to have what you need.
But invest also in resilience, empathy and love.
We will be OK. Most of us have been through worse things individually. And although social distancing of this magnitude is unprecedented, it is nonetheless necessary and is what will give healthcare workers and those whose immune systems are compromised a fighting chance.
And for the moment, let go of your judgment of how other people may be reacting to this situation.
Maybe some are over-reacting. Maybe others are under-reacting.
Either way, it is no business of ours, and it is not our job to judge anyone. There is plenty on our own plates to think about without our having to criticize, make fun of, or cajole others.
Besides, we don’t have all the answers, nor do we have a crystal ball. We’re all in this thing together, and it can be scary. Why be unkind to those who may seem to you to be overreacting?
How does that help?
I remember that Mr. Rogers once said that in times of crisis and catastrophe, his mother told him to look for the helpers, because there will always be people helping.
Let’s become the helpers, not those who hurt or heighten the hysteria.
Remember: reactivity comes from fear.
People are afraid. Afraid they’ll become sick. Afraid they will die.
Have you ever been close to someone who was dying? Did you sense discomfort? Did you hear unanswerable questions? Did you feel their fear?
I imagine you didn’t hold them in contempt or make fun of them.
I know what you did instead.
You were there for them. You had compassion for them. You listened to them and tried to reassure them. You didn’t rob them of their fear, but you sat with them, had empathy for them, helped them, loved them, and prayed for them.
The masses are full of fear.
We do silly things when we’re afraid.
Now is no exception.
We don’t all share the same fears, but we all know what it feels like to be afraid. It is no picnic.
I hope that the vast majority of human beings will never know the effects of this disease.
I have no idea how many will become sick, or worse.
What I do know is that all of us have already been affected by it, if only emotionally and psychologically.
Have compassion for yourself and for others.
Rather than rant about what they should and should not be buying at the grocery, show them the respect and love that you would if you knew how truly afraid they are, how you would want them to treat you if you were full of fear.
Because we all are. And we all need that kind of love.
Show empathy in the face of their anxiety, not contempt.
Be helpful. Be kind.
Give thanks to those in the scientific community. Because of them, we generally sleep fairly peacefully and in good health, despite the many potentially life-threatening sicknesses that lurk in the shadows of the night just outside our homes.
Give thanks also to the public health officials, disease control specialists, first responders, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers who help us 24/7 to diagnose and treat illnesses while managing symptoms as effectively and comfortably as possible.
We will get through this.
But we will do more than that if with resilience, empathy, and love we treat each other with compassion and with mercy.
It doesn’t cost us anything. And it never runs out.
Invest in empathy. Invest in love.
A market that will never crash.
Dr. Jonathan Eric Carroll, KLPC, NCPC, NCCE, is a state-licensed mental health professional, is an ACPE Psychotherapist, and is the Founder of The Clinic @ The Montgomery, a center for therapy, parenting coordination, custody evaluation, and business consulting in downtown Owensboro. Dr. Carroll serves also as the Grief Therapist for six funeral homes in the region. Visit www.themontgomeryclinic.com.