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  • Writer's picturePatricia Ullman

Practicing Kindness During Catastrophes

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

I heard on a podcast the other day that the reason the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 faded so mysteriously from our collective memory is that many people felt ashamed afterwards. Some of this was the guilt survivors often feel, an irrational shame that they lived while so many others died. But the speaker also said that the fear and panic that spread across the world created a lot of extra selfishness and greed. Some people didn’t help others as they might have, and they hoarded things so that many others couldn’t get what they needed. I can imagine how, after the danger of the disease retreated, some genuinely good people may have been appalled by their own behavior and had many regrets.

There were also beautiful stories of people caring for others without holding back: nurses, neighbors, families, and public figures. Uncertain and fearful times like these, and like ours today, also bring out the best in people. There is the feeling that we’re all in this together.

So this is a reminder that we can all be more aware of this choice. We can actively, deliberately make an effort to do things that are helpful. The alchemy of this is powerful, as it brings hope and inspiration to ourselves and to those around us that the best of humanness can survive and grow.

In this time of upheaval on many fronts, here are a few ideas about acts of kindness that can make a difference and help keep us strong. I know there are many more, so I’d love for you to add to this list (some of my friends already have):

* First, cause no harm. Practice “social distancing” as much as possible, limit your travel, and follow the advice of the CDC in not touching others, coughing and sneezing into your arm, washing your hands often and thoroughly, and keeping your living area clean.

* Call your relatives, friends, and neighbors to say hello and to check on them, especially people who live alone.

* Stock up the food and supplies you need, but not more.

* Ask someone who is sick or old if they need something at the grocery store, especially if you’re going anyway. Drop their items outside of their door to avoid contact, but you can smile, say hello, and chat from a safe distance.

* Send emails or cards to people you’ve been meaning to catch up with.

* Offer to walk an elderly person’s dog.

* Listen with curiosity to people, giving them your full attention and empathy.

* Smile and say hello to people you pass on the street or in your building, and ask them how they’re doing.

* Order take-out or pick-up food from local restaurants to help keep them going. Keep all of our business owners in mind as we try to get through this economic crash.

* Say “I love you” to people you love.

* Donate to local food banks and other important causes.

* Send sincere wishes to people for their health and safety.

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