4 Empathy Lessons from the Year of the Pandemic for 2021

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Let’s be real about 2020. What can I do? So very much!

1. It’s just as important to be who you aspire to be as it is to do what you aspire to do.

When you're sitting at your home with yourself and your immediate household it becomes much more painfully obvious who we are. There is less hiding behind social events, schedules, meetings, and distractions of busy-ness. There is more time to read, to think, to contemplate. “Who am I?” and “Who or what am I?” were questions on many more minds this year. I value empathy because empathy is a state of mind, a state of presence. When you are living with empathy you are in truth asking yourself: “What will I give?” “What will I give to this moment in time?” “Who will I be?” Actually, the answer to this question determines your next action or inaction. Who you are determines whether you see yourself speaking up or sitting down. Who you are determines what you will show up for or whether you will show up at all.

So Empathy Lesson #1 for 2021: Ask yourself and write down the answer “Who will I be in 2021?” “What do I aspire for?”

2. Family ranked higher than ever on my list of Needs.

I am sure that I am amongst many this year with whom family ranked higher this year in our list of priorities. What previously I and so many well-meaning people took for granted, seeing family members, living amongst family members, having shared time with family members, suddenly became a precious resource that at times felt well outside of our grasp. The tangible hold upon family has felt so fragile as if it could give away at any moment. And for so many, let’s pause a moment, the lives of loved ones did fall outside of their grasp. Let’s collectively hold those families in love in our minds and hearts as they enter the new year with new circumstances. This year changed the meaning of family for an overwhelming number of people. One can only hope that the meaning of family moments shared will last a lifetime in our hearts.

Ask yourself and write down this answer, Empathy Lesson # 2 for 2021: “Who can I be, that demonstrates to my current family members how important they are to me?

3. Gratitude is even more important in times of distress than in times of contentment

In the last 4 years, I have mentioned gratitude in many of my previous blogs, workshops, talks, and writings. Never until now have I utterly depended upon gratitude as a way of living just as necessary as brakes on a car or a rudder on a ship. I’m not certain how many of you have experienced this, however, those moments when I lost sight of gratitude, were the times I recklessly spoke words that I immediately regretted to people I loved or I drifted so far off course in the direction of my mood that I became utterly bewildered as to why at 8 pm I am feeling depleted with my head in my hands. Each time I looked to see where the seam unraveled it was at my internal sense of gratitude or lack thereof for that moment, that situation, and that circumstance. AND what got me back on course, and the better frame of mind I needed was breathing out and breathing in again speaking the words “I’m thankful...” or “Lord help me...I’m thankful” or even “Lord, Have Mercy I’m thankful”. I’m guessing some of you out there know what I mean when I speak in this way. Today, I cannot say “I’m grateful” or too many times. It is becoming a constant prayer in my mind.

Empathy Lesson # 3 for 2021, ask yourself and write down this answer: “What person, experience or things am I grateful for this year? Who or what made 2020 survivable for me?

4. It’s OK to let go.

Right now as I am reading this there are so many people, places, and things that were a part of my life last year that I have completely let go of during the course of this year and now at the end of this year I can finally say “I am OK with that”. So many strategies that I employed last year no longer serve me this year. I have let them go. So many of the situations that brought me stress yet I could not have imagined living without, I have let them go. AND it is OK. It is really OK for my life to look different than I previously imagined. It is OK for me to do my life differently. It is OK for me to adapt and to learn something new. AND is OK for you to do it, too! “OK” can be good enough. Have more time to rest, more time at home, more time with the children, more time alone can open up doors of possibility that you did not know were possible before. Life can change and you can still be “OK”. Life can change and your needs can still be fulfilled. Life can change and you can grow. It is OK to let unnecessary things go.

Ask yourself and write down this answer, Empathy Lesson #4: “What stressful and overwhelming situations or things did I let go of in 2020? What other unnecessary burdens could I let go in 2021?


Jessica K. Hairston, MD

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