Unprecedented Empathy: Our Ultimate Silver Lining

Holding on to today's biggest bright spot

The past few months have been filled with uncertainty, urgency and an unprecedented use of the word "unprecedented." 

We spent the first few weeks making future plans one day away, then one week, and now cautiously beginning to say "when": When we're back in the office. When we recover. When we wear pants. Though there's still many months and much uncertainty ahead, there's something happening now, something constant, essential and heartwarming. A word that, before "pivot" came along, reigned supreme as the most overused buzzword: empathy.

I've experienced more empathy in the past several weeks than ever before. 

This isn't to say we operated completely devoid of empathy before this, but the empathy I'm witnessing now is different. It's ever-present and comes from every single member of the teams I work with. How many meetings have you been in where the primary topic was how certain messages will be received? Nearly all of them? Me too. We're routinely asking ourselves how someone in healthcare or working at a grocery store might feel about our content. Will this land wrong for the single mother who's afraid she's going to lose her job? The effort to better understand our fellow humans' experiences is all around us, and it's beautiful. 

Why did it take a global pandemic to help push us over the edge of empathy, toward which we were slowly tiptoeing before? And what do we do to ensure we bring this type of thoughtful, clear-eyed consideration to our conversations, well … forever?

As humans, we were all thrust into a situation in which there was abundant and immediate clarity on what really matters. As agencies, we began showcasing the better parts of our natures. Thoughtful, considered and creative work. Sure, we're still hearing more piano tracks over stock footage than ever, but if that's the template that gets us finally, consistently producing empathetic work, I'll take it. 

This surge in empathy isn't being applied only to the work we're creating on behalf of our clients. It's being demonstrated in our virtual walls, as well. Our CEOs are sending video messages and heartfelt emails encouraging employees to put their health and wellness first. Cultures are being reinvented and connections reforged with a renewed sense of this big, creative community we all belong to. Day in and day out, the list of ways we're supporting each other is longer than I've ever seen it.

Our collective emotional state and sensitivities are heightened right now, and the result is an acute awareness of our fellow humans and their experiences. Seeing how our industry is reacting, and how the questions we're asking are changing, has been a bright light in dark times. But someday we'll be back working in our physical agencies, sharing donuts, having IRL happy hours, and making work that's not specifically in response to the coronavirus. And when that day comes, we'll be challenged by the everyday things that can dampen these heightened senses. Things like finding a conference room, commuting, and putting on proper clothes again. 

I hope we keep challenging ourselves to bring our wide-open empathy with us back to our offices and to display it proudly like a coveted creative award at the center of our desks. To continue asking questions about how our work will be received. To fully understand the importance of diversity and inclusion in our offices and our process. To make work that is additive to the lives of those who are thriving and those who are struggling, and to recognize our differences as well as the threads of commonality between us all.

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Jen Corrigan
Jen Corrigan is group account director at Carmichael Lynch.

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