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Compassion in a Time of Chaos: There is No Right Response

Compassion Blog

by Emery Gewirtz, M.A., FAACT’s Director of Behavioral Health

This season is temporary, and so are these feelings. Still, while they may be temporary, and will not last forever, some days it may feel like they will. That’s okay. For some, life has not changed too much, and for some, maybe it has even gotten better. Maybe you have more time with your partner, more time as a family, more time to write, or more time to cook. Or, maybe this season has marked devastation. Job loss. Hope loss. Or maybe, just the change in general has been hard. Adapting in an unnerving time can be challenging, and no one deserves judgement for that. Depression. Anxiety. Grief. These are all responses to the times we are living in. 

During this uncertainty, it is important for us all to remember, there is no right response. We might feel heartbroken - or we may feel nothing. We might feel numb, we might cry, or we might sing. Your best friend may find herself unable to even do the laundry while you have renovated your basement. Perhaps, you can’t stop lamenting over the way things were, wishing you could revisit a time gone by. It’s okay if your child is more shaken than you, or vice versa. And it’s okay if you spend days crying before you can rally yourself to understand this new normal. We are grieving. It is a loss heard around the world.

In our community we often address invisible illnesses, but illness isn’t the only thing that can be invisible. Pain can be invisible too. Bear in mind that not everyone is having the same experience as you while we are social distancing or physical distancing. Some are worrying about how their child is no longer receiving mental health services or support in school, about how they will put food on the table, about how they will pay their rent next month, about how they could possibly finish school online, about how isolated they will feel away from their family, and on and on. Not everyone will share with you the depth of their sorrow as life as we knew it was ripped away.

Compassion, love, kindness, and space to feel are things we need to give and receive at all times, but especially now. We need to give each other (and ourselves) the chance to feel whatever we are feeling, no matter if it is despair or if it is hope. It is only natural that dark feelings might come, and if they do, just make sure you do not rest in them too long. It is prudent to let your feelings in, address them, and then move on. This is an act of self-compassion because your feelings are valid too.

That’s why we must work harder than ever to show each other compassion whether we agree with someone’s feelings or not. Compassion is the willingness to help others, unadulterated kindness, and empathy put into action. Quite literally, compassion means “to suffer together1.” And, while the suffering won’t last, hopefully our feeling of togetherness will. With that, know that all these feelings are valid and there is no right response.


References: 

1. Lilius, J., Kanov, J., Dutton, J., Worline, M., & Maitlis, S. (2011). Compassion revealed: What we know about compassion at work (and where we need to know more). Oxford University Press.