Why Empathy Is Lacking in Our Response to COVID-19 (and How We Can Fix It)

If we want this pandemic to lead us toward a better tomorrow, then we need to embrace empathy as a verb, not a noun.

In the first week of Colorado’s shelter-in-place order, I stood stunned listening to a dialogue unfold between an expert on a national news program and a woman who had just lost her job.

The woman was not sure how she was going to pay her bills that were due on April 1, let alone feed herself. “This too shall pass,” was the news contributor’s response to her suffering. 

Where was her empathy? How can you rationally tell someone who is two weeks from having her economic security pulled out from under her that this too shall pass?  

Problem: lack of empathy, lack of action

The news contributor made me angry, very angry. Crises such as these should catalyze action, not cliches. What if someone had told my father — who survived two POW camps, lost all but four of his teeth to malnutrition, and risked his life and the lives of his three daughters in pursuit of freedom — that this too shall pass? Would he have been brave enough to hope for a better future in the United States? Would he have been brave enough to pursue freedom?

If my father had accepted his and his family’s fate in wartime Hungary — that this too shall simply pass — I wouldn’t be where I am today.

As I listened to the woman describe her hardship, I could feel her pain viscerally. While I was not two weeks away from personal insolvency, I was grappling with where to find my start-up’s next round of funding. Nearly 20% of start-ups, including my own, had just had their term sheets canceled. My family and many others were relying on me to figure it out. How would I keep the lights of my start-up on? In times like these, platitudes are not enough. We must stand up and take action.  

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