The process of writing New Year’s Resolutions has a different feeling this year. Yet, in honour of my mother, who was always striving for better, I feel compelled to maintain the tradition. Although we have said good riddance to 2020, we are still left with the continued fallout of the global pandemic. That fallout seems to be largely fear based. Some of the fear is related directly to COVID-19. Some of the fears have been triggered by repercussions of sickness, job loss and various levels of quarantine or other “safety” measures. Some pre-existing fears have been magnified. The reactions are pervasive, diverse and sometimes quite intense. They cross ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, and politics.
In this context, we have no idea of the stresses and feelings evoked by this pandemic. We are blatantly aware that some jobs are more prone to the daily stress. However, we don’t know the path that others are walking. It seems that the only New Year’s Resolution that matter in 2021 is: Tread gently.
Right now, we don’t know what people are dealing with. We do know that COVID and other illnesses, death (related or unrelated to COVID), job loss or changes, underemployment, family breakdown, isolation or constant togetherness, and boredom are impacting the mental and physical health of the people we meet each day and ourselves. So has not being able to come together for joyful celebrations of the holiday season, engagements, marriages, and the closure of memorial services. We also know that what people show us often does not reveal how things are going for them. How vulnerable that people allow themselves to be is determined by several factors. It could be trust in the relationship or a desire to cope with the unimaginable by distancing. People do what they need to do.
Never before have we seen the immediate need for empathy. It is not easy to consider things from another perspective, particularly when faced with aggressiveness or unkindness. Sometimes it may mean just taking a step back. That may be all you have in reserve at that given time. The pervasive call for kindness is not just a platitude. It is the only positive way to navigate through this difficult terrain. I have been the recipient of many kindnesses from colleagues, my school community, family and friends during this pandemic. It is often the determining factor of a “survival mode” or a joyful day.
The call to Tread Gently also directly pertains to how we treat ourselves. There continues to be a need to reflect on our actions and apologize for reactions, as required to maintain relationships. However, I think we also need to give ourselves a break. Now is not the time to reprimand ourselves up for what we haven’t done. Maybe a binge watch of Netflix is the best we can do on some evenings. Or maybe going to bed at 8:30 pm is the answer if we’re that tired. Maybe our body is telling us we need to attend to go for a walk or stretch. Maybe the purchase of that very expensive coffee machine is worth it, if it results in joy with that first morning sip.
How we interact with each other and how we treat ourselves, matters now more than even. Seemingly small actions have a big impact, much like a tiny pebble causing multiple waves in a still lake. We could hold the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back or adds a ray of hope. Tread gently.