In the face of our current challenges, I've heard many echo my own feelings that our personal actions have been insufficient. This is especially true when we compare ourselves to others whose roles are deemed essential and actions heroic.
This sentiment at times comes when people reflect on their relative good fortune or privilege. But it is not limited to the lucky.
I’ve also spoken to those directly impacted by events. A young boy whose single mom is out of work, laments that he is no longer able to volunteer at his church and feels “worthless.” People whose loved ones have been inflicted by the virus but are unable to be there for them in their greatest hour of need. Business owners who aren’t able to do more for their employees. Employees who don’t feel as if they’re making a real difference in their work. Teachers who are concerned they’re not doing enough for their students. Students who feel they aren't doing enough for their parents.
It is of note, that in each of these conversations, I find these people are actually doing more than maybe they realize.
Let’s start with the basics. “Doing nothing” right now is actually the most important thing most of us can do. A recent New York Times headline read, “Dramatic Behavior Change Leads to Cautious Optimism.” The article goes on to say “concerted efforts to drastically change human behavior — to suspend daily routines by staying at home — are slowing the insidious spread.”
At a fundamental level, most scientists have been shocked by the level of adherence to social distancing recommendations. Original models assumed that only half of Americans would follow these directives. New models are showing that number to be at least 70% and potentially as high as over 90%. In an individualistic society as ours, such collective sacrifice is remarkable.
Or as one commenter wrote on social media, “When you go outside and see empty streets, you aren’t seeing fear. What you are seeing is love. Our love for one another.”
Beyond these daily sacrifices marked by our absence are also the little ways in which we are present for one another. Undoubtedly, the idea of physical distancing has actually brought us together socially. We have reached out and opened up to friends, family members and strangers with increased regularity. Implicitly saying with each little action, we are here for you.
In our quest for significant meaning, we can easily overlook how a gesture we may consider insignificant can mean the world to someone else.
There are, of course, other ways, we can help from our seclusion. We can give to local food banks, support local businesses, thank those who are on the front lines, share inspiration, offer consolation to those who have lost, find ways to help others we know or hear about who are in need.
Listening to experts, following guidelines, being there for one another, offering assistance. These are not insufficient. In fact, for most of us, it is the very definition of sufficient - “meeting the need of; enough.”
It is natural to always want to do more, and I encourage people to help as much as they can. But in the absence of things within our control, we benefit no one when we get down on ourselves for not doing more.
In the days, months and perhaps even years to come, our turn and ability to do more will undoubtedly come. We will be asked to step out and step up for others. And based on what we’re seeing now, I have great faith that each of us will.
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