With the WHO finally calling the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 a global pandemic, we find ourselves in an unprecedented situation and tiring times. As suddenly with such statement, the coronavirus COVID-19 became an issue affecting the whole world and every one of us as individuals in one way or another. So what can we do and what’s this link between the golden rule and the coronavirus COVID-19? And how might compassion and cooperation be the key?
Since the spread of the outbreak beyond China into neighbouring countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas, it seems to me that all is on a downward role. In some parts of the world, things are looking extremely bleak with life almost coming to a standstill, and many of us are facing some manner of disruption within our personal lives myself included.
Admittedly from the start of this year with just three months in, tensions have been rising across the world. Travel is being curtailed, and the stock market is tumbling, schools and workplaces are temporarily being closed, fights over toilet paper and hand sanitizer costing as much as $250 a bottle on Amazon. And let’s be true to ourselves; it most certainly won’t be an easy year.
Still, there is hope. Worldwide epidemiologists are trying their best to try to make sense of the situation by looking deeper into questions like; How does the virus spread? How can the spread of the virus be slowed or even stopped? And the most pertinent question. What will be the impact of this global epidemic? And the keyword is “Global”.
Why might you ask? Because most of the problems humanity is facing right now, such as climate change, economic inequality, and the current existential threat a global contagious virus affect us all, “they are global in nature”.
Globalization and interdependence is a fact
Reflect, in the past few months looking at the big picture. We will see that we have experience disturbances in supply chains, a slowing down in manufacturing and our mass transport systems which interconnect the world and permit international travel acting as a means for spreading the virus.
Evidently, the current coronavirus outbreak is pointing out to us just how interdependent we are.
Globalization is a fact, and indeed the only choice we have to save ourselves is cooperation whether we will work together to solve our problems by seeking the golden rule and tapping into our compassionate nature or react with fear.
Compassion and cooperation are key
Unfortunately, in such moments where global unity, compassion and cooperation could make such a difference, we are seeing ideas of Nationalism trying to seize upon the coronavirus to reinforce their separatist agendas. But there is hope, as there are parties around the world, that understand that separatist agendas hinter our common interests and are working across borders to try to solve the current problem. Such as the new collaboration between Harvard scientists and their Chinese counterparts to develop a vaccine to quell the COVID-19 outbreak.
Not excluding what in my opinion right now are the heroes of kindness and compassion, all the health care workers around the world, selflessly risking infection to help and assist those sick with the virus in such moment of need. But all of us in one way or another can be as they are, heroes of compassion in small or big ways.
What can each of us do?
First, to urge you not to panic right now would be in my opinion, a silly thing to do. Why? Because we must acknowledge that some measure of fear is a healthy response to a contagious virus.
That fear response we all feel towards uncertainty is a part of human nature, an automatic response that came through evolution and is buried deep within our psyche (Workmam & Reader, 2014). Furthermore, I believe that right now we each are all reacting in a manner we consider appropriate trying to make the best decisions with the information and resources we got to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
It might also be evident that some of these actions will seem illogical and irrational to others but perfectly rational to us.
The problem is when we let such fear overcome us that we start acting on impulse or irrationally. I would instead encourage a slow response and not to react instantaneously with a knee jerk reaction to every piece of bad news or information we receive.
Were right now a measured response might not be the easiest thing to do especially as the severity of the full impact of the virus remains to be seen. So each day will be a struggle against our human nature and a fight to come out on top.
Responding with compassion
Therefore we need to acknowledge that such viral outbreak is causing us fear. Still, we need to respond to the contagion wisely – with preventive measures that benefit ourselves and others. In the case of COVID-19, taking steps not to contract and spread the virus even if they might cause us temporary discomfort.
Here is where compassion comes in. Research shows that responding with compassion can help reduce stress and anxiety, and a way to keep our hearts open towards both ourselves and others (Gilbert & Choden, 2014; Hall et al., 2013; Weng et al., 2013). Furthermore, research is showing that we are wired to experience empathy and compassion, that the greater our social connection, the more we resonate deeply with others emotions and experiences at the level of our physiology and brain, and experience pleasure and transcendence helping others and observing others being helped (Seppala et al., 2013).
Therefore compassion can help, particularly if the virus is causing you unnecessary anxiety, limiting your ability to work or travel, reducing your income, or if you or someone you know has already contracted the virus. Furthermore responding with compassion does not necessarily mean going out there amits the outbreak and being a reflection of persons like Mother Theresa.
As Kristin Neff (2011) would say, compassion can start with yourself. And a compassion exercise one can do is what called a Self-compassion Break (Neff & Christopher, 2018). See/listen to the videos.
Self-Compassion Break Meditation Whit Chris Germer Long Version
Self-Compassion Break Meditation With Chris Germer Short Version
Also, Chris Germer and Kristin Neff (2020) give us instructions of how a self-compassionate response to the COVID-19 may look like:
Mindfulness – Become aware of how you feel about the virus. Are you feeling anxious, disheartened, confused? Can you feel it in your body? If so, where? Is your mind preoccupied with the virus? If so, what are your thoughts? Can you validate for yourself how you think or feel in a kind and understanding manner? For example, “Yes, this is hard.” “This is difficult.” “This is really stressful.” Can you offer yourself a little space around your feelings, knowing that it’s part of the current situation we’re all in?
Common humanity – When you hear news of people struggling with the virus, can you allow this to enhance your sense of being part of a global family rather than feeling separate? Can you imagine yourself in their situation and say, “Just like me.” Or when you reflect on your own distress, can you remind yourself, “Others feel as I do—I am not alone.” “Sickness is part of living.” “This is how it feels to be a human being right now.”
Self-Kindness – Try putting your hand on heart or some other soothing place, helping to calm some of your anxiety through touch. What words do you need to hear to comfort or reassure yourself about the virus right now? Are they realistic? Can you talk to yourself in a warm, compassionate voice? What actions do you need to take to protect yourself, or to provide for yourself? Can you encourage yourself to take these steps, in a supportive manner?-- Germer and Neff (2020)
This practice might make you feel more at ease and compassionate and can act as a catalyst for affirmative action. In essence, it is all about finding our way on how to be compassionate with oneself and others.
Like any crisis, this is also an opportunity
The crucial thing is to remember that in every dark cloud, there is a silver lining and through humanity’s history, times of crisis have always heightened the worst and the best in us.
Still, for every person hoarding supplies, others are making sure the most vulnerable members of our society are taken care of. For every racist slur hurled, there are many other’s whispering words of encouragement to the people fighting on various frontlines against this threat, including the people fighting for their lives on hospital beds.
This crisis will surely batter and bruise us. Still, we need to come together as a collective each one of us doing our part while embracing each other even in such bleak times.
We need to turn our roots towards the golden rule and that the essence of what defines us as humans is to act with cooperation and compassion (Armstrong, 2011; Neusher & Chilton, 2009). For history shows us that when we collectively worked towards a crisis by cooperating and being compassionate as a collective, we always emerged stronger.
For what it matters now is the time to act with compassion, kindness and cooperation. If we cooperate and act with an embodied compassionate-kindness towards each other, we will surely get through this and emerge stronger as a collective humanity. God bless you all
Armstrong, K. (2011). Twelve steps to a compassionate life [epub]. New York, go to sleep: Three Rivers Press.
Germer, C., & Neff, K. (2020, March 12). Self-compassion and COVID-19. Retrieved from Center for mindful self-compassion: https://centerformsc.org/self-compassion-and-covid-19/
Gilbert, P., & Choden. (2014). Mindful compassion. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Hall, C. W., Row, K. A., Wuesch, K. L., & Godley, K. R. (2013). The role of self-compassion in physical and psychological well-being. The Journal of Psychology,147(4), 311-323. doi:10.1080/00223980.2012.693138
Neff, K. (2011). Self compassion. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Neff, K., & Christopher, G. (2018). The self-compassion workbook: A proven way to accept yourself, build inner strength, and thrive. New York, NY: Guilford Publications.
Neusher, J., & Chilton, B. (Eds.). (2009). Golden rule: The ethics of reciprocity in world religions. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
Seppala, E., Rossomando, T., & Doty, J. R. (2013). Social connection and compassion: Important predictors of health and well-being. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 80(2), 411-430. doi:10.1353/sor.2013.0027
Weng, H. Y., Fox, A., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., Caldwell, J. Z., Olson, M. C., . . . Davidson, R. J. (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and neural responses to suffering. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1171-1180. doi:10.1177/0956797612469537
Workmam, L., & Reader, W. (2014). Evolutionary psychology: An Introduction (3rd Revised ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.