Posted: May 2, 2020 in: Empathy, Pain-2-Power, Personal Empowerment

A Wave of Intentional Empathy to Combat Coronavirus

I have often thought that the world would be a kinder place if all of us were able to keep one fact at the front of our minds:  We are all temporary beings on this planet.  We all face the pain of impermanence—saying goodbye to our youth, to friends and family members who grow old, to pets we have come to adore, and, yes, to those who fall victim to diseases like cancer or Coronavirus.  None of us can escape our vulnerability to being mortal.  That should be clear today.  And it could and should be enough to make us feud with one another less and empathize with one another more.

I don’t intend this as a pessimistic view, in any way.  I mean it to be a powerful one.  Because remembering we are all, ultimately, in the same boat could spark a viral wave of empathy.  We could become intentional about deploying empathy.  We could be moved—not only during this war with Coronavirus, but after it—to listen more to the deeper, truer thoughts and feelings and dreams of others and to do what we can to optimize their lives (as well as our own).

Here’s just one way.  People tend to gloss over their struggles when asked about them, in a cursory way.  Ask most people how everything is going, and you’ll get a one to three-word answer like, “We’re doing okay.”  But you could follow up with, “Sure, but what’s the toughest part for you of dealing with this pandemic right now?”  And if you ask that question or any number of other ones, then listen patiently to the answer, you can connect with people at a much deeper level.  That’s because people are hungry to share their real thoughts and feelings.  They just aren’t sure they really have permission.

Sometimes, you may have to “go first.”  So, when you’re asked how you’re doing, you could answer in a way that feels closer to the heart of the matter than one that avoids your heart (and that of the other person):

I’m worried about what staying home for this length of time means for my kids, when they finally transition back to school—if they can transition back in the fall, instead of continuing this online learning.

I need to figure out where my finances are right now, but looking at the accounts is enough to give me anxiety. 

I feel like we’re all making decisions as communities and as a country without enough facts.  It’s frustrating.  I’m not someone who usually just follows along with rules that don’t seem rational.

Start sharing your truth, and you’ll notice that other people start sharing their own.  That’s the miracle of human empathy.  It’s contagious.

Millions of us are masking and gloving and learning how social distancing creates emotional isolation, not just physical isolation.  We’re learning that minimizing the risk of becoming infected with Coronavirus brings with it the risk of minimizing our human connections, too.  It’s time to fight back—with intentional empathy.


Dr. Keith Ablow


2 responses to “A Wave of Intentional Empathy to Combat Coronavirus”

  1. Dr. Keith Ablow says:

    I appreciate your comment. I don’t think enough people realize the power they have to influence the lives of others with even one well-timed, well-honed sentence. I have had many clients recall such a single sentence as a highlight of their life stories, going back, at times, decades. Thank you for your insight.


  2. Bill Fidler says:

    It’s amazing the impact that one person can have on so many others with a smile, genuine interest and sincere empathy! It certainly is a miracle and very contagious.