Why empathy matters after Covid

Covid has underlined the need for greater empathy at home and at work, for adults and for children.

Caregiver, carer hand holding elder hand woman in hospice care


There are so many potential impacts of Covid-19 and the multiplicity of responses to similar sets of circumstances. When we look at young people, there has clearly been a negative impact of young people being deprived of their friends and of face to face learning. And yet this is not the case for all young people. I was talking to a researcher the other day who is about to publish a study showing many young people found their mental health improved through not being at school. I know family members who had difficulty responding to the social pressures of face to face schooling who felt much more secure as a result of social isolation.

And yet I wonder what the long-term impact of that isolation has been for many young people’s emotional and social development. What marks will more time relating online rather than in person leave? Not that online has to be just about rushing to judgement and making people feel bad about themselves. My oldest daughter organised an online circle of confidence with her friends where they boosted each other every day. Online is not the problem. It is the way it is used.

And I’ve definitely noticed within less than a generation a much more confrontational style in the way some young people relate to each other. The kind of things that they say to each other sometimes seem incredibly brutal – the kind of things that are maybe picked up from other online forums and reality tv, which seep into everyday interactions and can be absolutely crushing if you are on the receiving end. As a society and at all levels we need to do better at teaching compassion and empathy. After all, children absorb from adults examples of how they should behave towards each other.

Empathy needs to be woven into every strand of how we behave and work is as good a place to start as any. Having been at our Top Employer Awards yesterday,  it was heartening to hear of examples of good employers promoting greater understanding of different people’s circumstances through network groups, champions, staff surveys and just plain seeing the complexity of people’s lives on the screen in front of them and realising that everyone has different circumstances and needs. The challenges of Covid, from the deepest financial problems to the most awful emotional stresses, should bring us together rather than divide us further.

Let’s hope that the pandemic lessons people learn will be from the more positive examples and from good leadership rather than the kind we are seeing on our tv screens on the news every night.

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