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As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to infect millions and kill far, far too many people, we thought we'd share with you a few publicly available insights which have helped us think about the role of empathy during this pandemic.

Why the Covd-19 pandemic is a real test of our empathy

Link: NPR: Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Alan Alda about the dearth of empathy and its impact on public health messaging

  • Alan Alda is best known as an actor but he is also a science communication expert with useful insights into how to communicate scientific information to the public. In this interview, he raises some important points about how science does science, why we need to educate the public that scientific knowledge isn't static, and why empathy rather than feeling sorry for others is important during this pandemic.
  • Quote to note: "Compassion is feeling sorry for somebody, to some extent, but empathy is getting a reading as well as you can of what they're going through, what they may be suffering from. And that's important to think about them as clearly as you think about yourself and protecting them."

The distribution of empathy in a population

Link: Scientific American: Covid-19 and the harsh reality of empathy distribution by Professor Peter Sterling, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

  • Empathy, like height, isn't equally or evenly distributed among all people. Some of us are really tall and some of us aren't.  The same applies to empathy: its distribution in a population can be plotted on a bell curve or normal distribution curve. Some people will exhibit very little to almost no empathy; others will exhibit a lot; but most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve.
  • Quote to note: "Low empathy individuals - let's face it - have appeal, which is why they succeed as politicians and media stars. For those of low empathy, it can be thrilling to watch a leader without scruples live so close to who he really is. Unconstrained by others' needs or feelings, he seems free."

10 lessons learnt from the Ebola pandemic can strengthen our Covid-19 pandemic responses

Link: BMJ Global Health: Community engagement for successful Covid-19 pandemic response: 10 lessons from Ebola outbreak responses in Africa

  • A really important article based on experiences of working with diverse communities during the Ebola outbreak in several West Africa countries and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A successful response to a pandemic cannot succeed without authentic community engagement. During this Covid-19 pandemic, however, the metaphorical pendulum swing has been towards top-down, biomedical responses rather than towards a balanced design that draws on social sciences and biomedical paradigms for a response that engages real people.
  • Quote to note: "Fear and frustration can provoke popular uprisings. However, as in any social movement, there are leaders who direct the hostilities. During Ebola, many uprisings, reticence and resistance were defused by recruiting these leaders into the response. They were thus able to control their own groups, ensure the security of teams and facilitate access to community for public health. Young people can be involved in monitoring and securing their areas of residence. This would prevent risk taking, recklessness and vandalism."

What ubuntu can teach us about responding successfully to pandemics

  • Link: The Conversation: Can the philosophy of ubuntu help provide a way to face health crises?
  • Ubuntu is an African philosophy of compassion, humanity and social responsibility. It can help shape how we respond to a pandemic and mitigate the hyper-individualism and anti-science misinformation that seems everywhere around us. Several insightful journal articles exist on the contribution of ubuntu to dealing with pandemics as diverse as HIV/Aids, H1N1 pandemic in Malawi and Ghana in 2009, Ebola in West Africa -- but far too many of these sit behind paywalls. 
  • Quote to note: "In particular, we suggest using the philosophy of Ubuntu to promote the idea that public health is more important than individual wellbeing. Through its emphasis on humanity, compassion and social responsibility, Ubuntu (“I am because we are”) has the potential to reduce conflicts between individual rights and public health, and might help governments gain community support for actions in emergencies."

The gendered nature of Covid-19's impacts

Link: InAsia: Priya Dhanani on the Covid19 pandemic's disproportionate impact on women and girls

  • Anxiety and fear have followed tough measures to control the pandemic, such as shutting certain businesses, restricting personal freedoms, limiting physical interactions. Violence against women, girls and LGBTQI people is spiking. Running alongside the Covid-19 pandemic is the resurgence of the hidden pandemic of gender-based violence (GBV). Definitely worth reading, this blog entry is a vitally important reminder about how pandemics are not only about a disease in the body's cells.
  • Quote to note: " The crisis has closed many shelters and weakened support systems and services for survivors of GBV, and domestic violence in particular, leaving women and girls trapped in dangerous situations. In places already suffering from inadequate healthcare systems, weak rule of law, and high levels of violence against marginalized populations, this can be precarious and even deadly."

Empathy, the Covid-19 pandemic and leading a business through the pandemic

Link: Entrepreneur: Josh Womack on Covid-19 and quiet, empathetic leadership

  • The loudest leaders aren't always the best leaders. Simple acts of empathy are very, very important right now, including in the context of business.
  • Quote to note: “Empathy is being amplified during COVID-19,” said Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. “A leader who can empathize with employees' personal situations will emerge from this stronger and better than before. And it will become clearer that a one-size-fits-all approach isn't a good leadership strategy.”

Leading with empathy and modelling self-care during the pandemic

Link: The Conversation: Lead with empathy during the Covid-19 crisis

  • Workplaces and workforces are under intense stress during this pandemic. How business leaders lead -- and take care of themselves -- while also looking out for their employees' mental health is more important than ever.
  • Quote to note: "Employers will not be able to lead effectively if they are also struggling. One an airplane, passengers are told to put on their oxygen masks before helping others with theirs. The same is true here."

Under-investment in the care economy has devastating consequences during a pandemic

Link: The Guardian Australia: Extract from an essay on reconstructing Australia after Covid-19 by Emma Dawson

  • A must-read piece about under-investment in, and under-valuing of, the female-dominated care economy in Australia and its consequences. 
  • Quote to note: "Care work involves a complex mix of physical and psychological abilities but, due to its roots in the home, it is often dismissed as “unskilled labour” and accordingly is underpaid. Over recent years, the wages and conditions for many of these jobs have been eroded through casualisation, the use of labour hire, and their excision from the standard labour market into the gig economy."

On a lighter note: empathy and dance

Link: PBS Newshour: Social dis-dancing anyone?

  • Social DisDance Partying: virtual events of dance and empathy connecting people around the world.
  • Quote to note: "Dance, nothing left for me to do but dance / Of these bad times I'm going through, just dance!" (Canned Heat by Jamiroquai, 1999)