Empathy and Gratitude Should be Contagious

People clapping on their balconies in Spain, 29 March 2020, The Conversation

A London grocery clerk noticed my daughter and her son looking a bit discouraged. “We moved from the States three weeks ago and just learned the kids’ toys aren’t coming until after the pandemic.” The clerk frowned and she continued, ”Well, We’re together—that’s most important, but it’s hard to explain to a three year old.” Her son’s eyes lit up when he saw a perky stuffed bunny rabbit on the shelf. The checker turned and pulled the bunny off the shelf and said, “Here, this one’s on us. Things will get better.”

And they did. That evening at 8 pm sharp, the family of five joined neighbors all over London in organized clapping to thank the National Health Service for tending to the sick with dignity. While they were outside, a neighbor from townhouse 25, practicing social distancing, welcomed my daughter at townhouse 21 and brought out an extra glass in case she wanted to join local women in a spot of wine.

After a few moments they learned my daughter’s family was recently arrived from the States. The neighbor from Flat 25 asked for my daughter’s phone number to include her in the neighborhood’s digital news link. When the ladies learned the kids could wait months–until after the pandemic–for their cuddly toys and favorite books, they went into action. The mothers gathered a mountain of books and toys for the three children, including a favorite “Frozen” book for the youngest. By the next morning, a quick note on the app alerted my daughter to a delivery on their front porch—British neighborhood welcome wagon!

Capt. Tom Stimulates British Gratitude

World War II Captain Tom Moore with troops from Yorkshire

Other Europeans share the Brit’s appreciation for their health care workers—in Spain in the picture above–clapping, in France they chant at 8 pm, and in Italy they sing, like their countryman Bocelli, who used his tenor voice inside an empty Milan church over Easter Weekend to bring the beauty of song to a sad world.

Captain Tom Moore, a World War II veteran, turning 100 in two weeks, used his gumption to thank England’s National Health Service (NHS) for helping him recover from cancer and more recently a broken hip. He used his recovered hip and a walker to help him walk 100 laps of an 82-foot loop around his Bedfordshire garden in northern England. He planned to raise 1,000 pounds on a “Just Giving” site, thanking the under-funded NHS. He grossly underestimated the appreciation of the English people, who may have been looking for a way to express their gratitude to their health care workers. The funds will go to the NHS Charities Together to assist during the pandemic.

Over the last week the tally for online giving has grown at the rate of a donation every twenty seconds. By April 16, there were 800,000 donations made to the “Just Giving” site for a total of 16 million pounds—a staggering amount of money, particularly compared with Captain Moore’s initial expectations. The First Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment were posted along the garden loop for his final loop—young men a quarter as old as the captain, saluted him for his military and civilian service.

Maybe there is something more behind this. People can feel impotent when stuck inside, away from customary work and living cheek-to-jowl with family members with no respite in sight. Psychology professor Robert Emmons, University of California Davis, points to a secondary reason gratitude serves us now. He finds expressing gratitude can lead to a stronger immune system (quite useful right now), lower blood pressure, and more of a sense of joy and pleasure. Maybe without realizing it we’re serving ourselves when we express our gratitude to others.

Passing Along Gratitude and Respect

Some places in America might see showing gratitude as a mark of weakness, but after this past month we all understand the sacrifices of the health and hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus. I hope so. I suspect if one went out and started clapping here, they might be carted away, except probably no one is paying attention given the crisis at hand. Actually research (by those listed below) shows that clapping in a group offers an emotional and physical reminder that we are part of something bigger!

So maybe it is time to sincerely thank those close at hand—grocery checkers and stackers, postal workers, gasoline tanker drivers, (if you can catch them), the sanitation workers removing the nasty refuse from our weeks at home, any people working to prepare or pass food out windows at restaurants or take-outs, and the spouse shouldering the burden of at-home coursework for the kids, or helping out for the first time. (Even those toiling at desks behind doors attempting to get work accomplished.) These folks are keeping the wire frame of America in tack.

This is all new, so we’re making it up as we go along. We cannot forget the unsung 22 million who have lost their jobs since the beginning of this crisis. Those folks need much more than gratitude—they need solidarity. Each of us is a valuable part of this nation and for once for the majority of us, it feels like we’re all on the same side. Let’s hang together and treat each other with respect. It will do us (and the country) good!

“Why feeling for carers feels so strangely,” Loveday eonline.com March 29, 2020

“The Selfish Side of Gratitude,” Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times, Dec. 31, 2015

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