The impact of COVID-19 on human kindness

Human kindness is a trait that, though inherent within our genetic make-up, can also be a learned behavior.

The absence of human kindness is blatantly visible to others when a lack of compassion and/or empathy permeates within an interaction with another human being.

As our daily life responsibilities continue at a steady state: mundane things such as paying bills, holding down a job and successfully interacting with co-workers, our ability to respond with human kindness towards others, when adding any other stressors to this daily milieu, can be quickly eradicated.

COVID-19 has been, hands-down, the major stressor of 2020, affecting jobs and personal lives in a manner never experienced by modern humanity before. Certainly, within the short history of humankind, our species has experienced wars, plagues, and natural disasters. However, we have never seen an event such as this pandemic, wreak world-wide havoc, witnessed and experienced by all, in one way or another.

How has this affected our human kindness? Although there have been pockets demonstrating an uptick in this trait, there has also been evidence suggesting an increase in an “everyone for themselves” attitude, which negatively impacts the health and wellbeing of others.

The medical response to this pandemic has been ripe with examples of human kindness, from health care workers traveling to help others in need, to individual health care workers holding the hands of dying patients, who because of the visitor restriction, are without family around them to support them during their final hours on this earth. We have seen front-line responders put their lives in jeopardy to help their fellow man.

Yet despite these heart-warming stories, we also see the fear brought on by this pandemic allowing the creation of false narratives in the form of conspiracy theories. We see individuals spout that their rights are infringed upon by the simple request to wear a mask and social distance, two proven methods to contain and quickly resolve this pandemic.

How can there be two very different, in fact opposite, responses to this stressor, in our daily lives?

What can we learn, as a species, to help mitigate any other world-wide stressors, so that everyone can benefit?

These questions are not easily answered, as the human psyche can condone behavior dependent on the situation it finds itself.

We know, that as health care workers and front-line responders, we are called to a higher purpose, one to help and protect others from harm. Within these professions, the self takes second seat to the greater good, working in concert to bring solutions to the forefront, all the while providing compassion and empathy to each individual situation.

However, when our individual selves panic, our response is quite different, as described above. We inherently ignite the flight or fight response, which has no room for human kindness. Instead, we save ourselves, at all and everyone else’s expense.

Can we unlearn this primitive behavior? Could we help others become more sensitized to a communal good, allowing for human kindness to be the router that guides our actions as human beings towards one another?

I believe we can. We must find ways to teach others the skills required to operate with human kindness within our daily interactions with others. As a worldwide community, we must find it within our species to be each other’s protector, healer, and champion. We must suppress our primitive tendencies and continue to evolve into a kinder, gentler species, capable of helping others reach their goals of living their best lives. By doing and helping one person thrive, a whole community will reap the benefits and be communally uplifted to a higher purpose.

Cristina Carballo-Perelman is a neonatologist and can be reached at her self-titled site, Cristina Carballo-Perelman, and on Twitter @ccperelman.

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