With the COVID-19 vaccine continuing to roll out, many places are lifting mask mandates, and life seems to be returning to some level of normal. But the idea of normal feels inaccurate when the pandemic and past year has left people without loved ones, experiencing persistent health problems, having an increased awareness of racial inequality, and with a renewed critique of the impact capitalism has on our lives.
We can’t help but wonder what returning to campus will look and feel like knowing that instructors, students, university staff, and everyone in between have suffered some unusual challenges over the past year. Many of us will feel overwhelmed, intimidated, uncomfortable, or just plain anxious.
So how do we move forward knowing that things are continuing to evolve, and we’re still facing so much unknown?
Lead with Kindness, Not Niceness
The most important lesson we can all learn is that if it hurts it hurts, and what might be traumatic for some might not be traumatic for others. It is not up to us to decide how someone else copes with their challenges, and it is unfair to brush off what is real to another. More importantly, it is not a right for all of us to know all the details of someone’s life, especially their most painful moments. The best thing we can do is treat one another with kindness.
Let’s be clear: being kind is not the same as being nice.
The key difference is that nice means doing what’s polite, what’s expected of you, and fitting the social or cultural norm. Being kind is letting empathy, compassion, and respect for yourself and others take the lead.
Kindness is more challenging because it forces us to acknowledge hard truths about ourselves or others, but it leads to more genuine interactions and connections that in the long run solidify our relationships.
Considering the amount of change we’ve all experienced in the past year, choose kindness. Choose forgiveness. Choose grace for yourself and others. Our minds, bodies, and souls have survived a pandemic, and by no means was it easy.
We all will continue to find ways to cope, heal, and recover likely for years to come. Just because the world continues to move along towards normal doesn’t mean that any of us are who we used to be, or that normal is what we should strive for, to begin with.