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These are strange times. Every day we wake up and wonder how our lives might be disrupted more. How long will we have to physically distance? Is school done for the year? How are the people I normally see every day, are they ok? When can I see my friends and family again?
Then, for some of us, there are much harder questions. Questions about making rent or feeding our families. Questions about the risks of leaving the house to go to work or about the health of people we love. These are the ones that are especially hard to deal with when there is such uncertainty.
However, for all the uncertainty, fear and discomfort COVID-19 has brought us, there have been some bright spots that continue to shine through. Restaurants and stores that have adapted to serve people with deliveries and trunk drops. Added attention on the importance of meeting housing needs for those who are experiencing homelessness. Businesses adapting to make new products like hand sanitizer and masks. Artists, musicians and makers sharing their talents and raising money for charities.
For me, the thing that really shines the brightest - the beacon that continues to break through the clouds and fog - is the care, love and concern people are showing for one another.
It used to be pretty easy to stay in our own little bubble, convinced that our problems were the only ones that mattered. But increasingly, I’m seeing examples of people stepping up in ways they never did before, thinking of the wellbeing of others alongside their own challenges. And this response isn’t limited to those who have the most privilege and comfort right now; people facing the tougher questions are expressing care and compassion for others, too.
Merriam-Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Homelessness, poverty, food insecurity, loneliness and isolation, racism, precarious employment and domestic violence have been ongoing problems in our communities. But we’ve been so wrapped up in our own lives, we haven’t stepped back or slowed down enough to really feel compassion and understanding for people facing those situations. Not anymore.
We’re all facing daily uncertainty and fear and because of that shared experience, many of us feel compelled to help.
And that is so incredibly valuable. All of those efforts that people don’t have to do, but they’re doing them for the good of others – imagine what would happen if we could count or quantify each of those interactions, kindnesses and good deeds.
Every person who voluntarily checks in on a vulnerable neighbour and picks up their groceries for them. Every food donation that goes in the food drive. Every meal lovingly prepared, packaged and delivered to a soup kitchen or a family. Every donation made to charities carrying out front-line work, putting themselves at risk for others. Every smile or wave from afar.
Of course, small acts of compassion won’t solve complex problems. They won’t ensure that a person or family in crisis makes it through without more trauma or harm, and it won’t eliminate food insecurity, homelessness or systemic racism. But showing our compassion for the communities we live in can, at the very least, let others know they matter and are not alone.
Compassion alone is not a solution, but it is always a good start.
Here are some suggestions for showing compassion in your community and being the bright spot in someone else’s day. A small action might be just the thing someone needs to keep going.
- If you’re feeling well, check in on neighbours and friends who might be at higher risk or need more support. See if they need groceries or medication picked up, arrange to get their mail or see if they need their dog walked. Remember to keep your distance when making deliveries.
- Connect with others – virtually! Chat on the phone, write an email or letter, video chat or make a video to share. Share fun videos or photos with a local nursing home or hospital. Tell a joke, read a story, sing a song or just check in with a fun memory you have with another person. If you’re video chatting over Zoom, FaceTime or Facebook, remember to check in with the other person to make sure it’s an okay time. Many people aren’t used to video chatting out of the blue.
- Make art! Chalk art on sidewalks, drawings or paintings in windows or even Christmas lights are great ways to brighten up the view for neighbours driving or walking by. It’s a great way for kids to get involved, too.
- Support local businesses like farmers markets, restaurants and stores that are adapting their practices to help avoid spreading COVID-19. These businesses employ community members and by supporting the business, you’re also supporting the employees and their families. But remember to be patient – new, safer practices may be more time consuming.
- Write thank-you notes to shelter workers, hospital staff, grocery store staff or others who are working hard to look after people. Share your note online, send it to the newspaper or just send it via email – all are great ways to recognize how grateful we are for their hard work. If you come in contact with one of these workers, please exercise patience and be kind. Their jobs are likely already overwhelming, they don’t need additional stress.
- Starting a garden? Plant a little extra, so that when harvest time rolls around, you have extra for the food bank or other community organizations. Gardening is also a great way to improve your mental health.
- Check in with local charities. Make a donation, volunteer virtually or see if there’s something else you can do to help. Some may just need help spreading the word about their needs.
- Lastly, use your voice. Speak up to elected officials. Remind people to be kind if they’re judging others. Share your gratitude for what you have and what you see.
We all need care and love to live, and we all deserve to benefit from it. The value of your compassion may not be measured in dollars, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.
Sarah White is a mama, communicator and coffee lover, who is passionate about community and social change.