A Shot of Compassion

Damon Korb, M.D.
4 min readMay 20, 2021

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Image by Velishchuk.

More than one year after the pandemic shut down America, we appear to be approaching readiness to gradually reopen. Vaccinations are being distributed at record pace. Schools are beginning to open doors, albeit with a variety of rules and limitations. But, I worry that when we do finally reopen, our society may have overlooked an equally caustic concern, a lack of compassion for our fellow Americans that has been brewing for years.

The drop in the level of compassion in America became obvious in this past year. We point toward the vaccination as a ‘shot in the arm’ for our society, but maybe more than ever we also need a ‘shot’ of compassion. The tragic death of more than a ½-million Americans is unlike anything seen in 100 years. Yet, we see headlines excusing the deaths because many of the victims were elderly and had pre-existing conditions. Wearing a mask has been proven to protect people from COVID and has dramatically decreased the incidence of other diseases like the flu and RSV. Still, far too many people refuse to wear them, and some dance joyfully while their children burn their masks.

Where is the compassion in America when billionaires get richer during a pandemic, but fail to provide relief to their employees or force them to work in unsafe conditions? And, when Congress has the opportunity to raise the minimum wage for those employees, the same elected officials that gave tax cuts to the rich, show no compassion. Racism and hatred are raging in our society: too many people in our country dismiss the tragic treatment by police officers of people who are black and ignore when people who are Asian are attacked in the street. Our children have seen countless examples of this behavior. They have seen the news and watched our former President mock people who are disabled and make derogatory comments about people of color. They watched him bully female reporters and others that disagreed with him.

Prior to the pandemic, bullying was a major problem in schools. Now that children have watched this hatred brew on television and in their families, what is going to happen when schools open back up? Will those with masks look down upon those without or the other way around? Like the Sneetches from Dr. Seuss’s classic story about how we are all the same on the inside, will we battle each other until we have nothing left? Indeed, 75 years ago Dr. Seuss drew some discriminatory pictures and that should be acknowledged. A light should be shined on hatred. And at the same time, we need to remember that we have much more in common than what divides us.

How do we protect our kids from this animosity that plagues our country?

First, when things open up and we see people again, we should talk others about how they are doing. Listen to their answers and show interest. We don’t try to solve problems for them, but help if they ask for it. We should do the same for our children. When they struggle, we listen respectfully. We empower them by showing confidence in their ability to handle their own problems and when they seek help, we give it to them.

Second, we must think about the words we use. Our language can be divisive. Dehumanizing expressions like the “Hollywood Elites” and “Anti-Vaxxers” are the equivalent of the ignorant and offensive language like “retard,” or “fag” that kids use to bully their peers at school. Remove stereotypes from your language and refer respectfully to others as people with different perspectives or options. Correct your use of words first, and then point out to your children when they are using discriminatory terms.

Third, recognize diversity and recognize that along with diversity comes perspectives that may be difficult for you to understand. Talk to your children about the experience of migrant workers, people who look different than you, neurodiverse children, and people living in poverty. Familiarity can lead to acceptance. Acceptance brings us a step closer to empathy.

Fourth, find ways to help others. Many families are hurting, because they are lonely or have lost a job or the life of a relative. When things open up, maybe instead of flying off to Cancun for vacation, we look for ways to help others first. Foodbanks and homeless shelters need donations and volunteers. Simple things like watching a neighbor’s child or visiting a lonely relative can help. Your children watch what you do and they will follow in your gentle and caring footsteps.

Fifth, be compassionate to your kids. Your younger children deserve your undivided attention. Put down your devices and play with them. Your older children are frustrated. Allow them the space to vent. Do not tell them that, “It is ok.” or “It’s not a big deal.” Just listen and let them know that you are confident it will get better and ask them what you can do to help. When their emotions are too big, take that as a serious sign that they need help and seek out professional support from a pediatrician or therapist. Remember, we have not seen a disaster like this hit our world in 100 years.

America will survive the pandemic, but will we survive our own hatred of ourselves? As with most disasters, it will be the children that have to deal with the consequences and who are also the hope for a better tomorrow. The solution is not complicated. All it will take is a little compassion. It is as simple as a shot in the arm.

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Damon Korb, M.D.

Damon Korb, M.D., is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician and the author of Raising an Organized Child.