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Charlotte Pence Bond: Amid a pandemic, choose empathy and compassion

SHARE Charlotte Pence Bond: Amid a pandemic, choose empathy and compassion

Vice President Mike Pence, left, and his daughter Charlotte wave before departing from John Glenn Columbus International Airport, Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio.

Associated Press

When crises happen — whether global or local, whether in our health or on our streets — the impact of past trauma is brought to the surface. 

Our generation is living in the midst of a plague. The disease is invisible, but its ramifications have impacted each one of us personally. We all understand what it feels like to be suddenly confronted with loss, in one way or another. The coronavirus broke down structures and traditions to which many of us had grown accustomed. We were perhaps uncomfortably faced with an abundance of something we weren’t used to: an excess of time. 

With this increase in time, came an opportunity for deep introspection — whether we wanted it or not. We examined relationships more closely when they were placed under the intense strain of disappointment. Our carefully constructed schedules made us question our paths due to the inevitable fear that accompanies the unknown.

Each one of us has been affected by this crisis in a unique way, but we share the common thread of having been affected by it. We can use this in order to relate to one another — to empathize rather than sympathize. 

Sympathy and empathy are two separate concepts, and it’s important to make the distinction between them. As Dr. Brené Brown so aptly states, “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.” 

Sympathy is not helpful. When we exude sympathy towards one another, we display pity without making an attempt to relate. Sympathy is inherently demeaning as it (often unintentionally from well-meaning individuals) implies that someone is not able to overcome a difficult situation. The person showing sympathy is not offering to be with someone in solidarity, instead conveying that he or she is glad to not be the one going through such a struggling time. 

Empathy is different. It encourages and uplifts. When we empathize with people, we admit that we do not fully know what they are feeling, but in this humble acknowledgment, we stand next to them, hold their hand, and remind them they are not alone. Sympathy removes one’s self from the difficulty that comes when we do the hard work of empathy by reaching out to feel the pain of communities that we do not regularly encounter.  

A quarantine combined with serious self-examination has brought to the surface many frustrations that were perhaps easily ignored in the past. 

We all know the grief, loss and disappointment that comes from a worldwide pandemic, but we are also reminded that each of our experiences is unique, and we do not have all of the understanding that we may wish that we did. Using these emotions and experiences, let’s take this empathy into the challenges that our communities now face. We don’t have to have the exact same experiences to be able to empathize with one another. We can listen, communicate and act without demonizing any specific group.

We can experience something tragic and come out the other side stronger than before, still together, still united.

Over the past few months, many things were missed and lost, but we now have the chance to be mindful of what we add back into our lives and routines. Not only does this present us with the ability to be aware of where we direct our energies and invest our time, but also to be conscious of how we bring to the surface the emotions that this pandemic has exposed rather than pushing them further down when our lives become hectic again. We can look at our patterns and relationships through fresh lenses, ones that got scraped clean when our lives unexpectedly slowed down and we were forced to examine them. 

We can experience something tragic and come out the other side stronger than before, still together, still united.

Where before we argued, let’s now show compassion. Where we assumed the worst, let’s give the benefit of the doubt. Where we turned away, let’s now look. Where we made excuses, let’s accept responsibility. Where we said we couldn’t comprehend, let’s now try. Where we ignored our neighbors on the street, let’s keep waving when we pass by. Where we stayed inside, let’s get some fresh air. Where we disconnected and pitied, let’s empathize and be humble. Where we thought of ourselves, let’s think of others. Where we climbed the ladder, let’s reach down to lift up. Where we filled our schedules, let’s rest. Where we compared, let’s celebrate. Where we damaged, let’s repair. 

This is not the first time that a plague has affected large communities of people, and the generations before us experienced the crushing losses of communism and terrorism that come from division. In those past battles, our ancestors were faced with the understanding that their lives were not their own — and their choices of the day would greatly impact the future. Now, we have learned the same lesson. Let’s not waste it.

Charlotte Pence Bond is the New York Times best-selling author of “Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President” along with two other books in the series. Her first solo book, “Where You Go: Life Lessons from My Father” (Center Street), was released in October 2018 and reveals lessons her father, Vice President Mike Pence, has taught her.