We are all affected by the spread of COVID-19* worldwide. We see friends and neighbors self-quarantined after international travel or contact with people who tested positive for the virus. Those of us with college-aged children have them back at home, and those who have younger children are home-schooling them after schools closed. We practice social distancing and avoid hugs with the people we love the most. With precautionary measures in U.S. cities and entire states, we and our family members are cautiously venturing out for only the essentials. It all hit especially close to home for me when I learned of someone in my extended family is COVID-19 positive. And there are others now, either related to a friend at work or in my community.
As we all struggle to understand our new normal, I ask myself the question: How do we talk to each other when the conversation becomes real and immediate? How do we comfort each other? And how do we convey hope and understanding?
Show Compassion and Practice Kindness
Compassion is our ability to show empathetic awareness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. Showing compassion encompasses a genuine concern for others, which many of us naturally have. While we cannot always be by each other’s side, we can care for others through acts of kindness. Sending an email, talking over the phone or video chat, or going grocery shopping for a neighbor who can’t get outside are simple examples of powerful acts. Kindness is an essential tool in confronting anxiety, fear, and ignorance.
Communicate Through Active Listening
Communication is what binds us together. It lifts our spirits to stave off isolation. Creating connection during difficult times strengthens bonds and brings us closer together. With family members, check in often. Many tools for connecting virtually allow for video chats; seeing faces allows us to process the emotions we are hearing over a phone line. Open communication is non-judging and leads to trust. When someone reveals that they are positive – focus on listening without responding quickly. With neighbors and co-workers, ask if you can call again and stay in touch. Follow their lead. The important thing is not to ignore the situation. Choose your words mindfully and carefully. Keep it about your family member or friend, not about you. If there was ever a time to embrace the power of listening, it is now.
While I typically dislike “don’ts” and prefer more positive messages, here are some suggested “don’ts” from my research that make sense:
- Don’t rush the conversation.
- Don’t minimize the experience.
- Don’t interrupt each other.
- Finally don’t preach.
When talking to someone who is sick, or an affected family member, avoid gossip, rumor, or speculation. There is a powerful human side of this crisis that deserves our quiet attention, calm civility, and careful respect.
Educate Yourself and Stay Informed
Keep up to date on what health care and public health experts are saying. Information or advice may change quickly, so use trusted sites like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or your local health care provider or hospital’s website. Determine what you can do to keep yourself, your family, and others safe and healthy.
Where to Find Information
- Check your county/city website for COVID-19 information and local resources.
- Caring for Someone at Home – CDC Guidelines: .
- Talking with Children about Coronavirus Disease 2019: Messages for parents, school staff, and others working with children – CDC Recommendations: .
About the Author: Sarah Genton serves as Division Director, Overseas Briefing Center (OBC), at the Foreign Service Institute’s Transition Center. Sarah has traveled the world and worked in eight different embassies overseas, spanning four geographical regions including Africa, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Her professional focus is Mission support programs, services, and bidding resources. Sarah has also volunteered over the years for a 24/7 hotline supporting people in need.