The Gifts of the Pandemic | Stronger Through Empathy

This is the third post in my series titled, The Gifts of the Pandemic. 

Smash your thumb with a hammer and those around you will feel your pain. COVID-19 was the hammer, and we all watched the pain it brought to those around us.

For those who missed the first couple of posts, this series emphasizes the importance of learning lessons from the pandemic to emerge stronger for the years ahead. Throughout the series, I’m exploring gifts or teachable moments such as:

  • Humility
  • Empathy
  • Adaptivity
  • Clarity of Values
  • Gratitude

For me, empathy is best exemplified by neuroscientific research, which shows when we observe the pain of others, it activates the same neural pathways as when we experience pain ourselves. We are hardwired to “feel into” the pain of others, which is the translation of the German root from which the word empathy evolved. Empathy is the gift of feeling into the emotions of others.

Given the widespread distribution of pain during the pandemic, empathy spiked as did the compassionate actions that follow from it. For example, in my recently released book Stronger Through Adversity, I write the following:

Restaurant owners donated meals to frontline workers. Community leaders purchased and delivered items to home-bound seniors. Many companies pivoted operations to produce hand sanitizer, ventilators, face shields, gowns, and masks…School teachers and principals augmented online learning by displaying banners with words of encouragement outside of students’ homes. Automobile parades replaced birthday parties. Neighbors stepped onto their balconies and expressed solidarity and gratitude for frontline workers. High school and college graduates received support from strangers and watched commencement addresses from celebrities. Musicians live-streamed concerts for charitable causes. COVID-19 may have struck the first blow, but people counterpunched with empathy, self-discipline, adaptation, communication, and innovation.

Some might argue that it would have been better to have less suffering so that there was less need for my so-called gift of empathy. Well, I agree completely but I also accept that we can’t turn back time and as such, the best we can do is to develop our empathy skills in response to the pandemic. Now the keyword in that sentence was skills. Empathy is one of the predominant skills reflected in calculations of emotional intelligence. It’s also not limited to suffering. Empathy also strengthens our ability to feel the positive emotions of others.

So in the spirit of my weekly challenge questions, I ask the following:

How did the pandemic affect your empathy skills?

To what degree did you become more able to “feel into” the experience of others?

What are you most proud of about the way you transferred your empathy into action?

Where did you miss the mark for connecting with the emotions of those around you?

What will you do to expand your empathy and compassion in the days ahead?

For more about empathy and compassion, I hope you will pick up or gift a copy of my book Stronger Through Adversity, which provides more than 20 pandemic forged lessons from 140 plus leaders like the CEOs and Presidents of Target, Verizon, Kohl’s, Microsoft, and Marriott. Out of empathy for those fighting the pandemic, I’m donating a portion of the book’s proceeds to the international nonprofit Direct Relief, which provides food and supplies to those on the frontline.

I also hope you will join my guests and me for LinkedIn Live conversations every Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. Until then, may you be Stronger Through Adversity and thanks to the gift of empathy.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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