Compassion in the time of COVID

playful girl in mask running along lawn Photo by Helena Lopes on

Compassion in the time of Covid

CeCe started her career as a teacher last fall.  Her kindergarten students take wearing a mask in stride, they keep a social distance, and handwashing is as natural as grabbing a crayon.  CeCe’s school is a model of COVID control. No outbreaks of COVID; a few individual cases. Because they follow the isolate, trace, test guidelines.  Yes, CeCe and her family got COVID, but not from school.  And they didn’t give it to anyone in school because as soon as she knew they were exposed, the whole family isolated.  

This got me thinking about norms going forward and how Cece’s kindergarteners will look at life next year, and the year after, and, well, for the rest of their lives.  Will they feel more comfortable in public with a mask on? Will six-foot distancing be the norm?

A few days ago, I tuned in to the TV news show, “Banfield” on NewsNation, a WGN station.  Award winning journalist Ashleigh Banfield promises an unbiased, in-depth discussion about topics that interest us.  

I heard Ashleigh talk about why she wanted to do her show, “Banfield.”  She said she was tired of news anchors’ snide asides, rolled eyes, smirks, and judgemental comments. So far, her shows involve one guest, usually a celebrity, and in-depth interviewing. So far, she works very hard to stay away from injecting her opinion, even when her guest asks her to do so.

Ashleigh says she’s not there to give her opinion, but to give us information, so we can form our own opinion:

‘News isn’t sport and we shouldn’t be treating it like sport’

The first time I watched, her guest was Aaron Sorkin.  He’s the guy that created “West Wing” and “Newsroom.”  I love both of these shows.  Mainly because they cover complex issues, and their main characters have strong moral compasses.  I watched an early episode of “West Wing” and felt oddly comforted. Much the same way I do watching an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” or the more modern sitcom, “Doc Martin.”

Aaron Sorkin is not a big consumer of social media.  He says he just doesn’t like it.  He went on to postulate about the effect of social media.  His thoughts really stuck with me. Here’s how I summarize what Sorkin said.

When we’re in kindergarten and on the playground, we test the waters of cruelty.  When we’re mean or nasty to someone, we see the reaction on her face and in the shrinking posture of his body. We know that feeling.  That’s how empathy and compassion plant their seeds.  That’s how we learn to be kind.  When we can’t see the harm we’re doing, it’s difficult to learn the lesson.

Sorkin’s comments stayed with me.  I thought about nasty comments, even nastier trolling, and physical threats that happen behind the veil of anonymity online. I thought about my children and grandchildren who are never far from some sort of social media. 

My musings went far and wide, imagining how the digital ether allows us to maintain more of a social distance than COVID has.  I thought about how we lose the connection a Tweet actually has to a real person. How TikTok posts often lead to mocking. We objectify the subject and the verb as if real people are not involved.

That got me thinking beyond social media and into the Zoom classroom.  Will children lose touch with the person behind the image?  Will they begin to think of them more as a character on a screen than as people with feelings much like their own? Will it be easy to criticize or adore the little character in the box who in a previous world would be trying to master the monkey bars alongside each other?

I don’t mind the masks and the six-foot distances.  We can still read each other’s emotions in the gleam in an eye, a crease in the forehead, a shrug of the shoulder.  

What I worry about is the creeping inability to feel for each other, to care, and to say: there but by the grace of God go I.  

Before Covid-19. Still one of my favorite pics.