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Small Acts of Empathy: Making a Difference (Part 1)

Rangam Aug 3, 2023 6:37:05 AM
Image of a book page with 'Empathy' highlighted in pink

Earlier this month, a seemingly ‘minor’ incident broke out at the Ranchi airport in India. A child was denied boarding a flight because according to the airline’s officials, he wasn’t behaving ‘normally.’ A staffer of the airline allegedly said that the child, a wheelchair user, was in a state of panic and would be a threat to other passengers. The boy, who already had a very uncomfortable ride to the airport, was distressed by the time he passed security check. The family ended up being put up in a hotel, and they flew to their destination the next morning.

The incident sparked outrage over social media, and people slammed the airline for being insensitive. India’s civil aviation ministry finally stepped in and assured they would investigate the incident, and the airline apologized for its action.

When the incident happened, other passengers on the flight tried to reason with the airline’s officials to allow the child to board the flight. Among the passengers ready to board were several doctors. They assured the airline’s staff that they would help the boy if there was any problem during the flight. Though all pleading fell on deaf ears, the empathetic support the family found was heartwarming.

Prominent American rabbi and author Harold S Kushner once said, “Do things for people, not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.”

Being empathetic is not something that only benefits the recipient. The person who is making the difference gains positivity too. When we engage in an act of kindness or empathy, endorphins (a natural painkiller) are produced in the brain. Kind people are found to have 23% less of the stress hormone cortisol than the average population.

A 2022 study published by the American Psychological Association, conducted meta-analyses on 201 independent research efforts, representing 198,213 participants. The study claimed that acts of empathy positively contribute to holistic wellbeing. Empathy and kindness, in fact, are more common than what we have been led to believe in the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a content creator, Danielle Vincent, wrote in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) newsletter, the first lockdown was hard as she had a tough time balancing priorities. She tried to be good at everything — being a parent, wife, teacher, and employee — but it simply was not possible. Danielle later took up hobbies, including playing the piano, which she had not done since 13. She bought a piano which her husband and son are learning too.

Danielle and her family’s life soon took a different turn. When walking in the woods, they found a lot of litter lying around. They started collecting the rubbish and were really enjoying it. The litter, clearly, was bothering other people too, and people thanked Danielle for the work that she was doing. “Getting that human connection,” she wrote, “was a lovely extra bonus.”

Little gestures matter

Philanthropist, writer and the former first lady of the US, Jacqueline Kennedy, once said, “It takes someone of taste to realize how much words of support and encouragement mean to those on the receiving end.” She used to send a handwritten thank you note after every event she attended and for every gift received. Jacqueline wrote notes of encouragement for friends who were hospitalized and letters of congratulations to friends when their babies were born.

These small gestures separate people of distinction. They probably matter more in the present times with the world trying to come out of the worst pandemic in recent history.

Part 2 of the blog is here.

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