Empty Shelves And Empathy

by Cathryn Curry Hasz

In what feels like just overnight, the world that we knew has changed. 

Parents have children of all ages home for an unknown amount of time and are struggling to fill the enormous shoes of our teachers and day care leaders. Children are bouncing off the walls with excess energy and are confused about what is happening. 

Companies have been forced to close their doors, or have asked their employees to work online. Homes across the world have been changed into makeshift offices, with the employees vying for valuable real estate to get their jobs done each day. 

Small business owners are scrambling to pay their employees or determine how they can make up for lost time when we can all get back to work. 

Some people have just been sent home, with no promise of the next paycheck, and hopeful yet vague rumors of some government sponsored income on the horizon. 

With all this uncertainty and stress, it is more important than ever to practice empathy and compassion – both online and in person. 

A couple weeks ago, when things began to get more heightened, hordes of people flocked to stores to stock up on supplies. Big-box stores were wiped out minutes after opening of products like toilet paper, hand-sanitizer and canned goods. Social media was inundated with negativity and backlash. Each day I struggled to not respond to people on both sides.  

I wanted to encourage the “preppers” to buy only what they actually need, and to leave supplies for the rest of the community. 

Furthering this, I wanted to ask that the individuals making fun of the preppers (both online, and in real life) to take a breath. To remember that these are real people with real emotions, and their actions are out of panic and are fueled by the pressures of this unprecedented situation. 

I finally broke my silence when someone made a terrible comment about an elderly couple who were afraid to go into a grocery store, and kindly asked the gentleman to keep scrolling if he couldn’t find something nice to say (Thumper taught this to us as children), or to try to practice empathy for people. Especially our elders, or those with underlying health conditions, who deserve our respect and compassion regardless. Not unexpectedly, my gentle reminder was met with hostility. 

Weeks have passed, and the situation has only become more uncertain. 

People right now are glued to the news. Days are spent constantly refreshing feeds and disseminating the info (both accurate and false), and anxiously awaiting the next bit of knowledge to be released from our world’s leaders. 

Similar to people’s purchasing habits, the responses to information are polarized. Some are complying with the government’s requests to shelter-in-place and are being careful not to transmit the virus further in hopes of “flattening the curve”, others are saying it is all a conspiracy, or that they would be fine if they caught the “flu”, without regard for what would happen to others they could infect along the way. 

With news streams emphasizing drama to obtain more viewers, and stories of people hoarding supplies, or price-gouging essentials for personal gain, it’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel, and the negativity is an infection that spreads rapidly. 

People are anxious and scared.

Now, more than ever, is a time to let empathy win over apathy.

The incredibly wise and empathetic Mister Rogers once told the story of his what his mother told him to do when times were scary, or dark. She told him to “look for the helpers.” 

Thankfully, decades after this advice was given, it is still true that “you will always find people who are helping.”

Stories of love, kindness, and altruism are breaking through the darkness. Folks are organizing collections of items and are donating them to seniors. Neighbors are sharing supplies to those who can’t make it to the store, or who found empty shelves when they arrived there. New social media groups are popping up to share validated information about supplies in local areas. People are banding together to create safe environments for kids to exercise and play, so that their parents can keep working.

The world is banding together. We are providing support, optimism, and at times, levity, to keep us all sane while we acclimate to this new way of life. 

This virus has forced the nations of the world to slow down and take a step back. To pick up old hobbies they previously didn’t have time for, and to spend more quality time with their families. Less cars on the road has shown immediate improvements to the environment, sparring unique events like reduced LA smog, and dolphins paying a visit to the canals of Venice.

How you spend your unexpected free time will impact how you handle the uncertainty. 

If possible, switch off the news and get some fresh air. Spend less time scrolling or trolling on Twitter and utilize this time for togetherness with those you are hunkered down with. Download a language app and start learning Italian so you can visit and help rebuild their economy when all of this is over. Pick up yoga or meditation to combat the heightened stress and anxiety. Plant the seed of hope in your garden or on your balcony, and nurture it. 

FaceTime or Skype with your family and friends. Enjoy the unprecedented extra time with your children, snuggle your fur-babies, and tackle the dust-covered “To-do list” long-since lost somewhere in the depths of your house. 

And most importantly: Be kind to one another. 

While the world shuts-down for a while to heal, use this opportunity to help one another heal as well. Maybe if the world puts their minds together, when we venture back out again, we can implement some positive changes. 

Combat this virus by spreading a new virus of our own – empathy.

You may also like

Leave a Comment